Turkey distances from EU target while improving ties with EU members

Turkey distances from EU target while improving ties with EU members

“Germany will not let its concerns about the human rights situation in Turkey overshadow its efforts to develop its economic relations. Rather than having a heated debate on certain issues in front of the public it is more appropriate to talk about them among friends.”

These words belong to Economy Minister Peter Altmaier, who is known to be close to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

The words of Altmaier, who came to Istanbul and Ankara last October accompanied by nearly 80 top executives of his country’s leading companies, underline an important leaning in the outlook of Germany, Europe’s dominant player, towards Turkey.

This leaning shows that by separating human rights and democracy issues in Turkey from trade and tender dossiers, Germany wants to manage its interests in the second group in a framework that will not be affected by the problems in the first group.

Altmaier’s visit took place after the state visit of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to Berlin at the end of September. The visit was important because although he had made frequent working visits to European countries after being elected president in 2014, this was the first state visit to a prominent Western European democracy.

The visit, which saw a red carpet treatment with top priority protocol, has shown that despite all of its criticisms about Turkey and all the problems that were experienced at political levels during the last years, Germany wants to put relations back to track with Turkey and take them forward.

A number of factors within the multidimensional complex structure of special relations with Turkey play a role in Germany’s outlook.

Two factors need to be underlined.

The first is the fact that Turkey started to have a prevalent role together with Russia in the evolving Syrian crisis.

The second, as demonstrated by Altmaier’s visit, is Germany’s wish to benefit from the economic opportunities in Turkey and take its share from tenders.

Erdoğan’s visit to Berlin has pointed to a striking duality or rather a paradox in terms of Europe’s stance.

In 2018 Turkey came to the agenda of European countries public opinion, parliaments and media amid increasing criticism over violation of democratic rights and accusations of authoritarianism.

Yet 2018 was also a period in which Turkey’s relations with European governments developed unaffected from these criticisms.

In this sense, even though they were working visits, the Paris visit where Erdoğan met French President Emmanuel Macron and the London visit where he was welcome to have tea with Queen Elizabeth II at the Buckingham Palace should be recalled.

This is what we need to understand from all these visits:

While the cooperation with the European Union at the institutional level remains locked in a stalemate and membership talks stand suspended, relations with EU member governments settle on a reciprocal interest framework and on a format based on “give-and-take” logic.

In other words, relations with Europe are outside of the EU framework.

In fact, looking from the EU front, the Turkey-EU summit in March in Varna has brought no significant development other than an agreement to “continue dialogue.”

There was progress neither in the talks about visa liberalization agreement nor in the revising of the Customs Union agreement.

The only headline that seems to operate is the 2016 deal on stopping the crossing of Syrian refugees.

Despite its slow pace, the process whereby the EU has pledged to deliver three million euros is working despite its slow pace.

This dimension is noteworthy in terms of showing the role the Syrian factor plays in the EU’s outlook towards Turkey.

In the meantime, the fact that the EU, in its April report, talks of “backsliding” almost on all chapters in Turkey’s performance is an expression of Ankara’s distancing from EU membership perspective.

At the stage that we are at, the Council of Europe and one of its organs, the European Court of Human Rights, remain the only bridge on which relations continue with Europe at the institutional level.

But the court, as seen in the latest decision on former Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP) co-chair Selahattin Demirtaş, is being increasingly targeted by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government.