A positive agenda between Turkey and the EU?

A positive agenda between Turkey and the EU?

Despite the recent tensions between Turkey and the European Union, efforts have been undertaken to stabilize the turbulence and establish constructive dialogue between the parties.

In this respect, the Turkish EU Ministry launched a new civil society initiative in Brussels on Nov. 29 under the title of Turkey-EU Civil Society Meetings, which aim to foster dialogue between Turkey and European journalists, academics and business leaders. Three consecutive meetings will be held in Berlin, Paris and London in the near future as part of the program.

“There is a serious problem of communication,” said Turkish EU Minister Ömer Çelik. “We need to overcome this. We should talk to each other, not about each other.”

So much has been said about the underlying reasons for the current stalemate about Turkey’s EU membership process. While at a technical level, bureaucratic processes for Turkey’s legal adjustment continue – albeit at a snail’s pace – negotiations have been more or less stalled due to the fact that major chapters have been blocked by Greek, Greek Cypriot and French vetoes.

Accession talks were reinvigorated at the end of 2015 thanks to a common interest in solving the refugee crisis. In return for a refugee deal, Turkey was expecting visa liberalization for its nationals once it met the legal requirements.

However, relations were further strained following the failed July 15 coup. Above all, the EU’s ambivalent stance in the first hours of the coup and its failure to fully stand by the democratically elected government frustrated Turkey and created distrust toward its European allies. At the same time, Turkey’s heavy crackdown on coup plotters as part of a state of emergency strengthened the notion in the EU that Ankara was drifting ever further away in terms of democracy and the rule of law.

Amid a hot debate over Turkey’s possible reinstitution of capital punishment, relations again plummeted as the European Parliament voted for a non-binding resolution on Nov. 24 to freeze accession talks with Turkey. The issue whether or not Turkey still qualifies for EU membership will be handled at an EU summit on Dec. 15-16. Will Turkey and the EU succeed in bridging the gap between their perspectives by then? It seems like a tall order, but alternative formulas might be developed to at least salvage the visa liberalization and refugee deal.

Today, the essence of the problem stems from the conflicting priorities between Turkey and the EU. While Turkey has adopted a security perspective in governance, particularly after July 15, the EU is prioritizing democratic credentials.

But Çelik complains about the double standards imposed upon Turkey with respect to negotiations. 

“It is not fair to hold Turkey responsible for not having delivered on the content of chapters which are indeed blocked by some members. We are ready to open chapters such as ‘Judiciary and Fundamental Rights’ and ‘Justice, Freedom and Security,’ and we trust ourselves that we will be able to close them in a short while once we start,” said Çelik. “Democracy is an open-ended process. We will keep on improving our democratic standards.”

Since the failed coup, Turkey has been engaged in comprehensive public diplomacy to explain what really took place in Turkey on July 15 and convince its European counterparts that Turkey needs time to recover from the trauma and return to normalization.

But European counterparts tend to read Turkish efforts as the promotion of Ankara criteria instead of the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria. At the end of the day, a positive agenda has to be set between the two sides instead pursuing an endless blame game given that the cost of breaking ties is high for both sides amid pertinent shared economic and security interests.

In this respect, the recent meeting among Çelik, European Commission Vice President Franz Timmermans, EU Commissioner for Migration, Home Affairs and Citizenship Dimitris Avramopoulos and European Commissioner for Security Julian King raised prospects for a deal on visa liberalization.

Reportedly, the sides are working on a draft containing amendments to Turkey’s anti-terror laws, along with a legal alignment of personal data protection in line with EU standards.

As elections near in Europe in 2017, the risk of ultra-right parties coming to power poses a real danger not only for Turkey-EU relations but for the world as well.

The minister thus has a point when he says, “We should strengthen our bridges with the EU more than ever at a time when world politics faces so much turbulence.”