Turkey on eve of crucial decision on EU

Turkey on eve of crucial decision on EU

In a statement on Dec. 7, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan underlined that Turkey was on the eve of “very crucial” decisions on the European Union, in reference to ongoing negotiations on granting visa liberalization to Turkish citizens. 

The last three weeks have seen intense diplomatic traffic between Ankara and Brussels in a bid to find a formula to overcome the stalemate. As the European Commission reported on Dec 8, Turkey still needs to fulfill seven out of 72 criteria but the one on the anti-terror law remains the real obstacle. The last meeting took place between Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu and EU Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans on Dec. 7 in Brussels. 

Speaking to the Turkish media in Brussels after the meeting, Çavuşoğlu said Ankara was working to finalize its proposal that will be submitted to the EU in the coming days. But time is running out. The European Council will be convened on Dec. 15 and 16, days after the General Affairs Council is convened on Dec. 12 and 13. Therefore Turkey has only a few days left before it can make its proposal to the European Commission. 

Turkey has long resisted calls for a change in its too broad anti-terror laws, keen not to lose any capacity in the fight against the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) and the Fethullahist Terror Organization (FETÖ) blamed for the coup attempt. It is still not clear whether Turkey is ready to make a change to its anti-terror laws or whether it will propose a roadmap for gradual change. 

However, the timing of the process is not ideal for the Turkish government. There is no doubt that the EU will continue to press the Turkish government to release journalists, academics, pro-Kurdish politicians, and prominent intellectuals, as well as changing its anti-terror laws. Turkey also wants to hold a summit with the EU at the level of heads of states in a bid to put things back on track with Brussels.  

But it will be quite hard for the Justice and Development Party (AKP) to deliver these expectations, as it has engaged in a project with the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) to change the constitution and shift to a presidential system. 

Desperately in need of MHP votes to take the constitutional package to a referendum next spring, the AKP’s room for maneuver will surely be restricted. The AKP and the MHP have long shared overlapping policies on many issues, especially in the fight against terror, the crackdown on pro-Kurdish politicians, and the massive purge of Gülenists. 

The AKP and the MHP have almost become twin parties, but any move by the former to deliver the EU’s expectations could break this partnership. 

Turkey stands on the threshold of many crucial decisions. Parliament is likely to vote on the constitutional change package either in late January or in February, before the referendum takes place. The government, meanwhile, has to decide whether it will take the last remaining step for a visa waiver that would help change the climate between Ankara and Brussels. 

It’s our sincere hope that Turkish and European officials will be able to find a way, before it’s too late, to resolve the long standing problem over visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.