Turkey’s half-century EU bid should not be sacrificed to German election

Turkey’s half-century EU bid should not be sacrificed to German election

Signs of a substantial change in Germany’s policies toward Turkey have taken more concrete form over the course of the summer, after the Bundestag voted in June to move German troops and aircrafts from the İncirlik base to Jordan over Ankara’s refusal to allow German lawmakers to visit the base. 

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s latest statements indicate what this change will look like and on what grounds it will be based.

Speaking at the German Parliament on Sept. 5, Merkel said she would bring the issue of Turkey’s accession negotiations to the European Council in October, with a demand to either suspend or end them. In a recent televised debate with her political rival Martin Schulz - who also says EU accession talks with Turkey should be ended - Merkel strongly signaled that this was not merely a pre-election promise made to her electorate, but a policy that would be implemented in her fourth term as prime minister.

Her messages also include Ankara and Brussels’ plans to upgrade the Customs Union, after last week she conveyed to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker Germany’s opposition to discussing an upgrade of the Customs Union under current conditions. 

It should be noted that these messages come after Merkel held a mini-summit with the leaders of France, Spain and Italy 10 days ago. Although the summit was about stemming the flow of African refugees into Europe, it’s almost certain that the troubled state of ties with Turkey was also addressed by these four leaders.

Cutting pre-accession financial aid from Brussels to Turkey is among the possible sanctions that Merkel has voiced in recent days. On the bilateral level, Merkel has also threatened to issue a stronger travel warning to German citizens, as she accused Turkey of holding 12 German nationals as “political prisoners.” Although she was careful not to mention the massive bilateral economic relations, there are concerns that a further rupture in ties would have negative consequences on economy and trade between the two countries.      

As can be seen, Merkel has been working to carry German-Turkish tension to the EU sphere, conveying the message that she could prompt a collapse of Ankara’s long-standing efforts to join the EU.

At this point, the EU and responsible EU countries should be brave enough to challenge Germany’s attempts to use Turkey’s accession process as a stick in its bilateral disagreements with the Turkish government. Friends of Turkey in the European Parliament, countries traditionally supportive of Turkey’s accession to the EU, and independent politicians who are able to see the future challenges that will emerge from pushing Turkey out of Europe and into unchartered waters, should be much more vocal against German leadership. Turkey’s half-century-long engagement with the EU should not be sacrificed because of such a bilateral dispute.

In this context, the immediate reactions to Merkel’s statements from EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and European Parliament rapporteur Kati Piri have been positive. As Mogherini stressed, there are scores of issues that Ankara and Brussels will have to continue to work together on as partners.

Of course, on the other side of the coin is Turkey’s growing failure in terms of universal democratic norms and human rights standards, particularly acute since last year’s failed coup attempt. The Turkish leadership must examine through an objective lens the reasons behind their current standoff with a number of EU countries, which have resulted in a de facto suspension of its accession process.

It is becoming clear that continued violations of human rights, deterioration of democratic norms, and restrictions of fundamental freedoms will carry a heavy cost for Turkey.