Future of Turkish-EU ties looks shaky

Future of Turkish-EU ties looks shaky

It was not clear as this article was being written whether the chapter on regional policy in Turkey’s membership negotiations with the EU was blocked or not by Germany in Luxembourg on Monday. With no new chapter having been opened since 2010 the opening of this one was supposed to end the inertia in Turkish-EU ties.

Many are linking the German stance to the Gezi Park events, and the brutality of the Turkish police against demonstrators which German Chancellor Angela Merkel has characterized as shocking. Turkish officials however are convinced that Merkel’s position has more to do with the upcoming elections in that country.

It is well known that Merkel is opposed to Ankara’s EU membership bid, and wants to see Turkey merely as a “privileged partner,” which entails fewer rights than full membership. She has nevertheless said, for the sake of political propriety, that she will not hinder processes begun before her time. Now however that line appears to be changing.

German officials deny, of course, that Merkel’s position has anything to do the elections in that country. But I know more than one EU diplomat in Ankara who thinks that the idea that Merkel has one eye on the elections is not too much off the mark. Even the Financial Times said in its editorial on June 23 that “Ms. Merkel may see some political benefit to be had by putting the Turkish talks on ice ahead of Germany’s general elections in September.”

It is also telling that the majority of EU members appear to be opposed to the German position, although they can do little if Berlin is determined on this score, even if it is isolated within the Union.

Given Prime Minister Erdoğan’s combative mood, which has reached new peaks with the Gezi Park protests, it is clear that any blockage by Germany will go down badly in Ankara, which will respond defiantly, and no doubt destructively in diplomatic terms. It could be that Merkel is cynically relying on this too.

Regardless of how this present tiff with Germany ends, the truth is that Turkish-EU ties have been in the doldrums for quite some time now. They have also lost much meaning for the Turkish public at large, not only because of the attitude of some members towards Ankara’s membership bid, but also because of the crisis in Europe.

Looking at the position that Greece, Greek Cyprus, Portugal, Spain, to mention just a few, are in today, the EU suddenly does not appear as attractive as it once did for the average Turk. This also provides Erdoğan, and even his EU minister Egemen Bağış who should know better, to push a defiant line which has at its core the notion that the EU need Turkey, more than vice versa.

This however is no less politicking than that which Merkel is accused of engaging in. Any realistic Turkish expert will tell you that there are vast advantages that accrue to Turkey from its EU perspective, and that the loss of this perspective would have serious consequences, not just economically, but also socially and politically for this country.

There is also no shortage of European officials, and experts, who are highlighting the cost to the EU of alienating a Turkey whose economic and regional profile, especially in relation to the turbulent region that it is located in, and which is of crucial interest to the EU too, continues to grow.

Sometimes some things have to be lost in order for their value to be understood in retrospect. It seems Turkish-EU ties are entering such a phase now, unless wisdom prevails in the end. The fact that wisdom will prevail, however, does not always appear likely.

This is after all an age when cynically calculating politicians are more concerned with their own narrow political interests, and therefore in stoking the innate fears of their constituents, than they are in taking a holistic view of matters in world that is increasingly interactive, both in the positive and the negative sense. So the future of Turkish-EU ties does indeed look shakier than ever.