Turkey wants to hit the reset button. Hostile rhetoric is being replaced with rapprochement (possibly encouraged by Turkey’s ongoing currency crisis). As Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan visits Berlin, how should the European Union respond to these overtures? Turkish EU accession talks are currently suspended, yet could they potentially be reopened? And, if so, what should the EU expect in return?
What should the EU’s relationship with Turkey look like? Once, Turkey was seen as one of the leading lights of democracy in the Muslim world. However, for over a decade now power has increasingly become centralised around Erdoğan, who has effectively held the reins for the last 15 years. An abortive coup attempt in 2016 only accelerated this authoritarian turn, with a far-reaching crackdown on those seen as political opponents of the regime. On the other hand, is Turkey simply too big and important a partner to ignore?
What do our readers think? We had a comment sent in from John, who argues that Turkey will never be a Member State of the European Union because the older members, such as France, do not want to lose their voting power against such a big state. Is he right? What are the biggest obstacles in the negotiations? And why is Turkey not an EU Member State yet?
To get a response, we spoke to Ambassador Faruk Kaymakcı, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and Director for EU Affairs. How would he react?
[…] The biggest obstacle in the accession negotiations and, in general, in Turkey-EU relations is the prejudice, double standards, and lack of EU anchorship towards Turkey. If the EU becomes a real anchor towards candidate Turkey, like it has been towards six other enlargement countries, the accession process would advance in the interest of both sides. However, the Cyprus question has been abused to slow down and jeopardise Turkey’s accession process despite the fact that Turkish Cypriots and Turkey accepted a solution, the UN Annan Plan, which was also favored by the EU in 2004. Also, the developments after the 15 July coup attempt in Turkey complicated the situation in Turkey-EU relations.
Turkey has not become a member of the EU so far because of the EU-Turkey anchor-credibility dilemma which still exists. If the EU displays sincere anchorship as it did for the enlargement countries in 2004, and it does today towards six Balkan countries, Turkey will become a more credible candidate, fulfil membership conditions and can join the EU.
Next up, we had a comment from Thorsten, who thinks that Turkey is looking increasingly diplomatically isolated at the moment, which potentially offers an opportunity. International NGOs have been sounding alarm bells about the political and civil rights situation in Turkey for a long time. Yet, if the EU offered the hand of friendship, might it encourage Turkey to chart a different course?
We put Thorsten’s comment to Aydan Özoguz, a German politician of Turkish ancestry who served as Minister of State for Migration, Refugees and Integration from 2013 until March 2018. What would she say?
[…] I think the path that Turkey is currently taking is really leading into the abyss. If you take a look at the conditions [in Turkey] today, retirees can no longer afford the simplest things. I have never before experienced something like this in my life there…
And, I mean, what where will we be when Turkey gets so unstable that people start to leave there too [as refugees]? People are currently fleeing for political reasons, but what happens when it goes completely down the drain there? That cannot be in Europe’s interest at all. And that is why you have to talk to difficult partners – and I say this also with regard to Russia, or even Poland and Hungary – over and over again. We [need to talk to them, whilst] somehow managing to defend our fundamental humanist values to a certain extent. And, of course, we need to say: ‘We want to live together peacefully, ensuring that the situation in your countries provides a basis for this’.
Finally, we had a comment from Christian, who thinks there would be no benefits at all to the EU or its citizens if Turkey became a Member State, and therefore wants the EU rule out Turkey ever joining.
To get a response, we put Christian’s comment to Ambassador Faruk Kaymakcı. What would he say?
[…] Turkey’s bigness, size, population, and global weight will be an asset for the EU, for a shrinking Europe, on the global scene. Turkey’s young and dynamic population, with an average age of 31 and increasingly skilled human capital, could be the antidote to the EU’s aging population and to the troubled European social security schemes.
As to being ’poor’; one could argue that Turkey is not poor any more, thanks to its fast economic growth performance in the last decade. It is now Europe’s 6th largest economy and 17th largest globally. According to recent forecasts, Turkey will become the world’s 12th largest economy by 2030. Turkey will contribute to EU’s economic power on the global scene. Turkey’s accession will increase the size and competitiveness of the European internal market…
As a reliable NATO ally, Turkey’s membership will consolidate both the military and the civilian aspects of the common foreign, security, and defence policies. A European Union which includes Turkey will be more efficient in tackling political problems and crises including threats from undemocratic regimes, terrorism, illegal immigration and trafficking in drugs, arms, and human beings. Turkey’s membership will provide sustainable stability in the Aegean regions and the Balkans. Moreover, Turkey’s geographical position and connection to the Balkans, the Black Sea, the Islamic world, Russia, the Caucuses, and Central Asia, will grant the EU a greater say in the international arena…
Finally, Turkey’s predominantly Muslim population and secular state will contribute to the bloc’s cultural diversity, which in turn could help to alleviate the rise of Islamophobia, xenophobia, and radicalisation across the EU. Moreover, the membership of a secular state with a predominantly Muslim population could facilitate the integration of Muslims in Europe into their respective societies, as well as increase the bloc’s ability to reach out to the Muslim world. In other words, Turkey’s membership will strengthen the EU’s multicultural society and democracy. It will be a solid confirmation, refuting the ‘clash of civilisations’ scenario and emphasising the essence of the EU, as a union built upon and through common values.
What should the EU’s relationship with Turkey look like? Is there a position between membership and outright rivalry that can satisfy both sides? What would a constructive, long-term relationship look like? Let us know your thoughts and comments in the form below and we’ll take them to policymakers and experts for their reactions!