Turkey’s EU bid marked by mutual insincerity

Turkey’s EU bid marked by mutual insincerity

Turkey’s EU ties are back on the agenda again with President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s visit to Brussels this week. Press reports in the lead-up to his visit, during which he will meet the heads of the European Council, commission and parliament, suggest that Erdoğan will get a warmer reception than he otherwise might have. 

The reason for this, however, highlights the insincerity on the EU side, which is showing once again that it is being driven by self-interest rather than any goodwill toward Turkey. There is also insincerity on the Turkish side with regard to its EU bid, of course. 

Viewed from the EU’s perspective, it appears that the driving force with regard to its ties with Turkey today is the crisis involving Syrian refugees. European countries want the refugees to be either stopped at the Syrian border, or accommodated in Turkey. 

Put plainly, they want to prevent the flow of mostly Muslim migrants from the Middle East to Europe, and want them to stay in predominantly Muslim Turkey.

They cannot blame Ankara for their refugee crisis, of course, because Turkey is coping with its own refugee crisis that is far greater than the EU’s. So there will not be angry accusations levelled at Erdoğan, but enticements dangled under his nose. If anything, Erdoğan will be the one wagging his finger given his penchant for this.  

Reports in the European media show that Erdoğan will also not be taxed about his autocratic ways and undemocratic bid for absolute power in Turkey. One of the enticements presented to him, on the other hand, will reportedly be the easing of visa restrictions for Turks. 

Whatever the EU decides in this regard, its steps will have to be visible and come into force soon, if not immediately, to work. That remains an open question. There will also be the enticement of money to help Ankara with its refugee crisis, although few believe this will be anywhere near what Turkey’s needs to cope with this crisis. 

What is not expected, however, is for the EU side to take steps that would advance Turkey’s membership bid in any meaningful way. That remains a bridge too far for today’s Europe. Erdoğan and Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu, nevertheless, know that if the EU gives them sufficient “gifts,” especially with regard to the visa regime, they can use this to their advantage in the lead-up to general elections just three weeks from now. 

So the calculations on the Turkish side with regards to Erdoğan’s Brussels visit are also marked by insincerity. All Erdoğan wants from this is political capital to boost his ambitions, and it seems he may get some. Otherwise, he has never displayed a major desire for EU membership, either as prime minister or now as president, given the restrictions this would place on his anti-democratic ways. 

This brings us to former President Abdullah Gül and his insincerity with regard to Ankara’s membership bid, despite the strong support he ostensibly gave to this as president. 

Gül tweeted a message a few days ago marking the 10th anniversary of the start of membership talks, having been largely instrumental in starting them. He still remains keen on this membership, saying the advanced democratic and social standards this will bring are vital for Turkey.  

Yet one has to seriously question whether he did all he could to advance this bid, especially during the Gezi Park demonstrations in 2013. At the time he endorsed Internet legislation which restricted the freedom of expression, and later also endorsed legislation which effectively placed the judiciary in Turkey under executive control. 

In other words, he acted as a rubber stamp for Erdoğan’s anti-democratic ambitions.

Today, Turkey is a much less democratic country than it was 10 years ago when its candidacy for EU membership was accepted, and Gül also has a hand in bringing this about.

This is why Turkey’s membership bid, which no one believes in anymore anyway, is marked by insincerity on both sides.