Is Turkey’s second honeymoon with the EU failing?
Coming back from the Turkey-EU Summit in Brussels in March, Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu announced that he and his team had carried out strong “Kayseri bartering” and gained what they wanted from the EU in return for an agreement on refugees.
Kayseri is the Central Anatolian city known for its business acumen and for producing some of Turkey’s best known entrepreneurs. Davutoğlu was saying in effect that their “horse trading” had worked. When the deal was finally clinched, Davutoğlu went further and referred to “a new era in Turkish- EU ties.”
The discernible “not so fast!” attitude of Donald Tusk, the head of the European Council, on the other hand, was lost on him and avid supporters of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP). They looked on the matter as a done deal which brought the added reward of visa-free travel to Europe as of June.
According to AKP supporters, this agreement also belied opposition claims that the AKP had alienated the country in the West. It was clear, not just from Tusk’s loaded remarks but also from reactions in Europe, however, that this deal had yet to prove itself.
As to “the new era in Turkey’s ties with the EU,” that clearly was not in the cards in the manner which Davutoğlu predicted in such a jubilant manner. Quite the opposite, Turkey was coming under increasing EU scrutiny for adopting anti-democratic measures, especially in areas such as freedom of the press and freedom of expression.
Meanwhile EU leaders, starting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, were criticized intensely for submitting to “Turkey’s blackmailing tactics” and turning a blind eye to its violations of the Copenhagen Criteria on eligibility for EU membership, simply because they needed Ankara’s help in the refugee crisis.
It did not take long for the true picture to start emerging, especially after the European Parliament’s latest report, which reflected the true feeling in Europe about developments in Turkey, even if it is non-binding.
Today we see a return to the language of recrimination and threats between the sides. Ankara is repeatedly underlining the fact that if the EU does not honor its promises, especially with regard to visa-free travel, it will suspend its side of the deal on refugees.
The EU side, on the other hand, is insisting that there is no free meal ticket for Turkey, especially on the visa issue, while reports in the European press indicate that even if the visa deal goes through, it will be clad with opt-out clauses.
It is becoming more and more apparent, in other words, that Davutoğlu got ahead of himself and was overly optimistic in his initial announcements. Analysts are aware of course that those announcements were politically motivated and directed at a domestic audience.
Analysts are equally aware that Ankara’s defiant announcement about suspending the refugee agreement if the EU does not honor its word is also motivated by the same thing. But even the language emerging between the sides, so soon after the Brussels summit, shows that things are not going well.
The agreement on refugees, on the other hand, is still fraught with pitfalls which could undermine it at any time. If the agreement falls through it will be “pay-back time” for Europe, which already feels Ankara took advantage of this crisis to advance its own interest, rather than the interest of refugees.
Put another way, the supposed “second honeymoon” between Turkey and the EU which Davutoğlu is referring to in so many words will vanish overnight and ties will become even worse than they were before.
There is also a critical question for Ankara in all this. If the refugee agreement fails, this clearly will leave the EU with a serious problem. But what about Turkey? Will its own refugee crisis not be amplified exponentially?
Put another way, there may be “a new era” in Turkey’s ties with the EU, but this will most likely turn out to not be the one Davutoğlu talked about.