The way forward for EU-Turkey ties: Mutual engagement
A report approved by the European Parliament on May 19 is not very promising for the future of Turkey-EU ties. Adopted by 480 votes in favor, 64 against and 150 abstentions, the parliament’s report demonstrates that EU-Turkey relations are at a historically low point.
This assessment of the current state of relations is not surprising. Turkey and the EU have drifted from one crisis to another in the past five years and have moved farther from each other. As a result, the EU de facto halted negotiations and ceased to view Turkey as a candidate country.
The report approved by the members of the European Parliament is now calling on the EU to formally suspend Turkey’s accession process should the Turkish government not reverse the negative trend regarding the state of the rule of law and respect for fundamental rights.
It would not be wrong to predict that this call will find much response in the post-Merkel Europe, and especially before the 2022 French elections where far-right parties are threatening incumbent President Emmanuel Macron.
At this critical point, important duties and responsibilities fall on Turkey and the EU to keep their relations stable and avoid taking irreversible steps. On Turkey’s side, the full implementation of the reform packages adopted by the government and the Turkish Parliament is a must. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan announced on May 21 that the fourth judicial reform package is soon to be unveiled. But the fact that the previous ones have failed to be put into practice undermines the value of such new democratic reform packages.
The Turkish government should also see that it’s now time to shift the security-democracy balance to the advantage of the latter if it wants to upgrade its image in the world and avoid human rights criticisms.
The EU leaders and politicians, for their part, should abandon using Turkey for their short-term political gains and imposing double standards. They should not forget that they also bear responsibility for the stagnation of Turkey’s accession negotiations since 2005. It was the EU Council and some individual countries that had imposed blockages on many of the negotiation chapters right after the start of the accession of Turkey, at the expense of conveying a very negative message to the people of Turkey.
A long-term vision should be strategized in Brussels with an emphasis on the capacity of the Turkish people, economy, and civil society which will eventually constitute a solid base for future Turkey-EU ties.
There are, however, steps that can be taken in the short term, too. The authorization of the European Commission by the EU Council in late June to start the formal talks with Turkey for the modernization of the customs union can be one of these steps.
Despite its negative report on Turkey, the European Parliament does approve upgrading the customs union with Turkey as “beneficial for both parties and would keep Turkey economically and normatively anchored to the EU, in addition to creating a renewed opportunity for positive dialogue and cooperation, providing a better regulatory framework for EU investment in Turkey.”
Another short-term move is the renewal of the EU’s commitment to supporting the Syrian refugees in Turkey. The EU should quickly remove bureaucratic obstacles and the political interventions of some members and announce the continuation of the migrant deal with Turkey in June.
The modernization of the customs union and the renewal of migrant cooperation can be the first steps to bring about a new understanding of the future of Turkey-EU ties.