Turkey-EU talks won't progress but won't break off: Carl Bildt
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Turkey - EU accession talks will not break up officially, but it will not go forward in the short-term, Carl Bildt, who once served as the prime minister of Sweden, has said.
But the EU will not be able to avoid a debate on Turkey, according to Bildt, when the European Commission will issue a progress report evaluating whether Turkey still fulfills the Copenhagen criteria, a requirement to continue accession talks. Rhetorical attacks have been detrimental to relations, yet more contacts are needed between the EU and Turkey, Bildt has recently told the Hürriyet Daily News in Warsaw, where he attended the European Forum for New Ideas.
How do you see the current state of affairs between Turkey and the EU?
As very problematic. There have been too many people burning bridges by rhetorical attacks, and that has made significant damage. Whether this could be repaired remains to be seen.
Will things go back to normal between Germany and Turkey? Or are the wounds deeper than some think?
The wounds are deep. Turkey is now a radioactive subject in Germany; few people are prepared to go close to it. What will happen after the elections? We have to wait for the new government, but after all, it is a state-to-state relationship. But to think it will go back to where it was before… No, it will not. You saw the social democratic party fundamentally changing its approach toward Turkey.
Do you think German Chancellor Angela Merkel will pursue her pre-election statement in which she said she will open a debate on Turkey and on freezing accession talks?
The question of Turkey will be on the agenda of the European Council. I think the outcome is going to be such that accession negotiations will not move forward. I don’t think there will be a formal break either. Negotiations will be in a state of hibernation for some time.
What makes you think that there will not be a formal break?
A formal break requires a unanimous decision. But there will be a critical period arriving next year as the annual commission report will be issued beginning next year. The question on the table will be whether Turkey still fulfills the Copenhagen criteria. If the commission says Turkey no longer fulfills the criteria, then that will lead to a formal reaction on the part of the Council.
Why do you think have we come to this point?
There have been for a long time in certain European countries those that have been campaigning against Turkey. Then there has been both the perception and the reality of the deterioration of democratic standards in Turkey.
After the coup attempt, there was the necessity of getting rid of coup supporters and coup plotters, which any state has to do to defend itself; but there is also the feeling that this has gone too far. This led to the deterioration of democratic standards, which is of increasing concern.
Is the gap in terms of how Europe and Turkey approaches the Gülenist network unbridgeable?
Of course there is a Gülen network and they are all over the world. But the state of Turkey has been promoting the Gülenists.
But they say they have made a mistake
They made a mistake, but they should not blame others for believing what Turkey said. I remember Turkey officially promoting the Gülen organization and media outlets in our countries. Then to turn that around and put people in jail just because Turkey says they made a mistake; that does not really work.
But this network is believed to be behind the coup attempt
Those who can be tied down to the coup attempt should be prosecuted under the rule of law. But that does not necessarily mean anyone promoted by Turkey running a newspaper or school is associated with the coup. That distinction is very important under our laws.
The Turkish government and the president seem to feel that European governments don’t want to work with him. Do you think this is creating a loss of trust?
There has been a somewhat halfhearted response of both Europe and the U.S. to the coup attempt. We should have done far more to demonstrate our strong support for the constitutional order in Turkey. There has been a loss of trust which has been regrettable. There has been a lack of communication, which happened a number of years ago, when for reasons that had nothing to do with Turkey, Turkey was no longer invited to EU summits.
Merkel has been keeping a dialogue as well and there are channels of communication, but they are too few and too seldom. At the same time, there has been an escalation of public rhetoric that has been detrimental.
Do you see a way out of the current stalemate?
From the EU’s point of view it will be very important to see what is happening in Turkey itself. Will there be a new opening, on all of the legal issues? We have a very large number of people in jail, large number of people who lost their jobs and we have a complete stalemate on the Kurdish issue. There has to be the beginning of a normalization.
Do you think President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan wants to see a break in accession talks or is it a tactical move when he calls on the EU to decide about it?
When I see him, which is not often, he says to me he wants to pursue the EU track. I have no reason to disbelieve him. Then he complains that he has difficulty in understanding what is happening in the EU. Then, of course, he has another pressing agenda in Turkey, which is terrorism, the meltdown of the Middle East and the refugees. With the political system and as the president of the country, he is overwhelmed by extremely complicated issues. The space given to European issues has deteriorated; back at the time 10 years ago, European issues were a big part of the political agenda. They are no longer.
Part of that is the fault of the EU, but part of that is due to the Turkish political agenda.
With Brexit, there is more talk of multi-speed Europe; could that be better for Turkey?
I fail to see that. But let’s see, the future is open. What Brexit is demonstrating is how integrated our countries really are. The Brexit process will become more complicated because the layers of relations go far deeper.
The counter part of that is that to get into these layers is a cumbersome process but a process absolutely essential for the future of Turkey, because this is the essence of its modernization. Turkey has done a fantastic decade of reform with the help of Europe, which was an inspiration. We are now unfortunately in a different phase.
What is the outlook of Europe toward Turkey; is there complete disarray on Turkey?
At the moment, there is no consensus and there is no question that Turkey is going into a difficult phase of its development; whether you relate that to the post-coup environment, to the meltdown in the Middle East or to tendencies in Turkish politics itself. But it affects its relations with Europe. But Europe has gone through some difficult phases, too: The euro crisis, the Greek crisis, Brexit.
If the EU leaders were to ask for your advice on a policy course with Turkey, what would you say?
I would say we need to look at things with a longer perspective; you can neither look at history nor the future of Europe without Turkey. We have gone through periods of convergence and periods of divergence. We had a profoundly important converging period for a decade; we are now in a troubling period of divergence. How should we handle that one without losing the possibility of coming back to the period of convergence? We need to intensify contacts with Turkey as a whole. I favor the dialogue; more dialogue at the highest level as well; but that’s not enough. The dialogue needs to be much broader and deeper.
Will you be for or against modernizing the Customs Union? Some see the decision to go ahead with the updating of the Customs Union as a reward.
I would be in favor of that. This would not be a reward to Turkey. The economic and social development of Turkey is in our interest. We don’t have an interest in economic troubles in Turkey, because I don’t think it would be good for the political developments of the country, by the way.
Who is Carl Bildt?
Carl Bildt has served as both Prime Minister (1991-1994) and Foreign Minister (2006-2014) of Sweden.
He was co-chairman of the Dayton peace talks on Bosnia and become the first High Representative in the country.
After stepping down as leader of the Moderate Party of Sweden in 1999 and leaving parliament in 2000, Bildt engaged in corporate boards in Sweden and the United States.
Returning as Foreign Minister of Sweden in 2006, he became one of the initiators of the European Union’s Eastern Partnership, and pushed the EU forward on Middle East issues.
Bildt is co-chair of the European Council on Foreign Relations, contributing columnist to the Washington Post and a monthly columnist for Project Syndicate. He recently chaired the Global Commission on Internet Governance.
Bildt serves as one of the Senior Advisors to the Wallenberg Foundations in Sweden and is on the Board of Trustees of the RAND Corporation in the U.S.