Germany's Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel's recent comments on Turkey-EU relations proves his country is still concerned about the accession process of Turkey to the European Union. Gabriel's declaration reminded us about a project once uttered by Germany on the same issue: A privileged partnership instead of Turkey's full accession.
The privileged partnership proposal was essentially about keeping Turkey outside the EU. In fact, Germany was one of the main players who decided to push Turkey away in a time when Turkey was as close as ever to the EU. Now, Germany probably thinks that Turkey has drifted away too much. Berlin has realized that Europe must figure out a way to not lose Turkey completely.
We must admit that the lack of progress in the EU accession process had a negative impact on Turkish political life. Yet, the EU should better engage in self-criticism first to understand the reasons why Turkey has become so distant to the EU. We are aware that, as of today, Turkey is not fulfilling the membership criteria, but we also know that the EU did practically nothing for the last couple of years to encourage the country to do what is necessary.
Now, we have suddenly discovered that all these ye
ars Germany has kept the privileged partnership file on its foreign minister's desk. In other words, Germany had not abandoned the idea of keeping Turkey outside the EU, while keeping the country somehow glued to it. Gabriel's declaration also proves that the Germans believe Turkey and Ukraine are comparable, and the EU's future relations with these two must be similar. Moreover, these relations must be, according to Germany, inspired from the association agreement to be concluded between the EU and the U.K. after the Brexit talks. This twilight zone proposed to Turkey means to be subjected to the EU's decisions without playing an active and equal role in their elaboration.
Germany probably predicts that the privileged partnership proposal - which was systematically refused by Turkey in the past - would now be attractive, because such an ambiguous position would exonerate Turkey from adopting the democratic reforms that all countries need to become a full member. Gabriel also mentioned deepening and reinforcing the customs union between the EU and Turkey. It seem like they want to tell Turkey, "Forget about democratization, you don't want it anyway; let's concentrate on ways to improve our economic relations."
Would a customs union 2.0 allow Turkish citizens to circulate freely in the EU? Would Turkish companies gain access to the European public procurements market without any limitation? Besides, are we sure that the Turkish economy would function better without democratization reforms?
There is no need, in fact, for Germany to try to find new formulas, because Turkey has no problem in pursuing its economic relations with European countries. The problem is about Turkey's political relations with them. Moreover, if membership was no longer a perspective for Turkey, why would it bother adopting EU rules and regulations for its economy, while it may jeopardize Turkey's commercial relations with third parties? If, for example, Turkey is not able to take part in the EU's negotiations with third parties about free trade agreements, that means it will keep losing, while the EU will keep benefiting. Why would we accept such a thing?
Turkey is currently looking for ways to compensate, on its own, the negative impacts of the customs union agreement, along with deepening its trade and investment relationships with France and the U.K. Maybe that's why Sigmar Gabriel had a feeling of urgency about the future of the EU-Turkey relations. Turkey is indeed on the course of substituting Germany with other European nations in its economic and strategic relations. Therefore, Germany wants to go back to "the good old days" perhaps. Nevertheless, dusty proposals such as the privileged partnership is definitely not a good instrument to achieve this.