Turkey-EU ties enter their most crucial six months

Turkey-EU ties enter their most crucial six months

European Union leaders will come together at a summit on Oct. 19 and 20, following the completion of key elections in Germany and Austria, in order to discuss the future of Ankara-Brussels relations among many other issues.

As suggested by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, no decision on Turkey is expected to be made during this summit. It’s not obviously because Merkel wants to delay the decision-making process after she had vowed that Berlin will propose the suspension of accession talks with Ankara during her election campaign but because of the fact that a good majority of the EU countries do think differently on her proposal.

There are reports that Merkel would press for the suspension of the 2 billion euros worth of financial assistance to Turkey under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA) for the period between 2018 and 2020. Upgrading the customs union agreement between Turkey and the EU seems also unlikely because of Berlin’s opposition.

However, the real deadline for Turkey-EU ties will be the spring of 2018, when the European Commission will publicize its annual Progress Report on Turkey. There are serious concerns that the report will be the hardest ever written on Turkey given the deteriorated state of democracy, human rights, rule of law and fundamental freedoms. It is highly likely that the commission will propose freezing accession process with Turkey on the grounds that the country no longer meets the required Copenhagen Criteria.

That’s why this column suggests that ties between Ankara and Brussels is set to enter its most crucial six-month period. Apart from the time factor, the psychological mood of both sides on the current state of ties constitutes the most difficult part in efforts to normalize relations.

While Turkey wants to see some more trust from its European allies, Brussels is keen to work with a predictable candidate especially with regard to the Turkish government’s obligations to meet necessary requirements in the fields of democracy and human rights. Thus, a balance of trust and predictability needs to be established before it’s too late.

The EU, for example, can do more in the fight against terrorism. As a matter of fact, there is very important news that the EU is planning to introduce a blanket ban on all activities of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) across Europe, on the use of PKK symbols, flags and so on through legislation. The PKK has been on the terror list of the EU for more than two decades, but it still is very capable of holding rallies indoors and outdoors, raising money and enjoying means to make propaganda.

The EU’s move should be surely endorsed by each and every member because the implementation of this ban is under the national competences of European countries. The fact that Turkey and the EU will hold a counterterrorism meeting next month is a positive development to this end. However, a similar move is difficult when it comes to the Fethullahist Terrorist Organization (FETÖ) because it’s not listed as a terror organization by the EU.

Trust, obviously, is not something that can be developed overnight, especially in international relations. But it’s worth trying.

On Turkey’s side, there is a lot to do. It’s unfortunate to confess that Turkey has been speedily distancing from democratic norms, particularly after last year’s failed coup. It’s been nearly 15 months since the coup attempt, and the Turkish parliament extended the state of emergency for the fifth time on Oct. 17.

The fight against FETÖ has come to a certain point with a strong belief that it can no longer pose a threat to Turkish democracy. It is maybe time for the Turkish government to introduce a certain predictability to its European partners and to outline a return to reform process.

There are some weak signals on this end. Many in government and the bureaucracy believe that tension politics with the EU is not sustainable and it will not help the government reach its objectives for the 2019 triple elections.

An increasing number of government members do talk about the need of normalization in Turkey-EU ties, while many of them do ponder on how to reset this relationship.

A number of presidential visits to some prominent EU countries accompanied with engagement with Brussels on energy, economy, migration and foreign policy can be observed in the coming months.

At the end of the day, the future of Turkey-EU ties will be determined as a result of mutual efforts within this very crucial six-month time.