Davutoğlu’s talks in Europe not expected to advance Turkey’s EU bid

Davutoğlu’s talks in Europe not expected to advance Turkey’s EU bid

Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu is on a European tour this week which will cover two key EU member states, namely Great Britain and Germany. Following the EU-Turkey summit in November, Davutoğlu joyfully announced “a new era” in Turkish-EU ties.  

Many took this to mean that Turkey’s stalled membership talks would be re-energized. Others were taken by the promise of visa free travel to Europe by October 2016. There was, however, a serious problem with all of this. 

Apart from the promise of opening up a new chapter in Turkey’s membership talks, and working to try and lift the visa requirement on Turks, there is no real indication that Turkish-EU ties are on the verge of “a new era.”

To start with, the EU-Turkey summit was essentially designed to address Europe’s refugee crisis and to encourage Turkey, with financial enticements, to do more to help alleviate this, and not to speed up Ankara’s EU bid. 

The crude bottom line is that Europe wants Turkey to keep the refugees on its territory, and to readmit those that had gone to Europe, in exchange for a one-off payment of 3 billion euros. 

None of this is going to prevent Davutoğlu from coming back from Europe claiming that new strides have been made in Turkish-EU ties. But all he really needs is for Europe to restrain its criticism of anti-democratic developments in Turkey and to show that it needs Ankara’s help on some key issues. 

Davutoğlu and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) can sell this to a domestic audience by putting what spin they want on it. Europe, on the other hand, appears to be obliging in this respect.

Davutoğlu can rely on the fact that highly negative international developments are increasing Turkey’s practical importance for the West. It has been more than noticeable since the refugee crisis began that key EU member states are trying hard not to alienate Ankara by criticizing it too much over the state of democracy and human rights in Turkey.

There are EU ambassadors, of course, starting with British Ambassador Richard Moore, whose country was first on the list of Davutoğlu’s current European tour, who have openly expressed their serious concerns in this regard. 

Their statements, however, have no effect on the government. As matters stand, the AKP has basically decided that the EU’s Copenhagen Criteria are not compatible with the kind of system of government it wants to introduce in Turkey under President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s guidance. Too much liberal democracy and freedoms for individuals and institutions go against the grain for the AKP.

Europe also has its troubles today and is hardly going to waste much effort on the membership of a country that is regressing in terms of the Copenhagen Criteria. So the central issue in Davutoğlu’s talks in London and Berlin will not be Turkey’s EU membership bid, although lip service will no doubt be paid to this. 

The simple fact is that European countries look increasingly on Turkey today as just another strategic Middle Eastern country with whom relations have to be kept relatively good for the sake of pragmatic considerations. 

This may be a disappointment for Western-oriented Turks who believe in true liberal democracy, but it is unlikely to cause much dissatisfaction among AKP supporters and Erdoğan followers. They have already decided what world Turkey belongs to. Therefore, core European values are more of a hindrance than a help for them, even if they go through the motions of pretending to still be keen on Turkey’s EU membership.