What should Turkey expect from Merkel and Macron’s EU?

What should Turkey expect from Merkel and Macron’s EU?

President-elect Emmanuel Macron will be sworn in as France’s new head of state on May 14 for a five-year mandate after a clear victory against the anti-EU National Front leader Marine Le Pen. 

Macron’s win has prompted optimism across Europe about the future of the EU, as the mainstream managed to hold off attacks from far-right populists in both the Netherlands and France in recent months. 

The election of a centrist, pro-EU president in France has been interpreted as a development that will also work in favor of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as she bids to be elected for a fourth term in September. It is also believed that the result in France will further strengthen the EU’s position in Brexit negotiations with the United Kingdom. 

Perhaps for all these reasons, Macron will rush to meet Merkel in Berlin on May 15, on his first day in the job, in a move that speaks for itself.

As the polls suggest, Merkel is very close to another term in power, which signals the start of a new EU era under the Merkel-Macron leadership. This will of course have a very important impact on the Turkey-EU relationship as well, particularly at a moment when the two sides are trying to shape a new framework. 

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and French President Macron are expected to meet in person on May 24 or 25, during the NATO Summit in Brussels. 

Erdoğan had congratulated Macron for his win by phone on May 8. In his congratulatory statement, Erdoğan surprisingly cited the fact that Macron’s election increased hope for the future of the EU. This is surprising because the Turkish president, along with a number of government members and senior officials, have long been describing the EU as a “weak” and “sick” institution that will soon disintegrate. 

From the Turkish perspective, Macron’s election can be assessed as follows: 

- It is positive that Turkey and its EU accession bid did not become part of the tense election campaign in France, despite the fact that the election coincided with Turkey’s referendum campaign, which had earlier sparked massive rows with Germany and the Netherlands. 

- It is understood that Macron has no particular opposition or prejudices against Turkey and its EU process, unlike former French President Nicolas Sarkozy. The expectation is that Macron will opt to follow the general line to be adopted at the European Council on the Turkey-EU relationship so that he can follow an independent stance in bilateral ties between Ankara and Paris. 

- In his statements before being elected, Macron made clear that he was following developments in Turkey closely, particularly the controversial April 16 referendum that resulted in the approval of a constitutional amendments package. He said the referendum marked an “authoritarian drift” in Turkey and vowed that there would be “no progress” in Ankara’s EU accession talks if he became French president. He therefore joined the EU leaders’ general evaluation on Turkey and will likely to pursue this line as president. 

All this presents a fairly consolidated EU approach toward Turkey, which suggests the need for the establishment of a new perspective in Ankara-Brussels ties. Such a perspective would envisage the enhancement of ongoing cooperation in counterterrorism, in stemming the flow of irregular migrants into Europe via Turkey, and in upgrading the Customs Union. This perspective would not mention reviving the accession talks until the Turkish government returns to its democratic reform agenda. 

EU Minister Ömer Çelik stressed in a visit to Brussels last week that Turkey will not accept shelving accession negotiations, but it will be difficult to convince EU leaders to open any negotiation chapters under the current conditions. The EU’s leadership, under the strong navigation of Merkel and Macron, is unlikely to deliver more than the current shape of Turkish democracy deserves.