EU and Turkey: A long-gone dream?

Published 23.10.2017 21:19

The best advice for both the EU and Turkey is that threatening each other with punitive measures has never been a good idea in international relations in the past and is not a good idea today

The last summit of European Union Heads of State or Government, the European Union Council, was awaited with some anxiety on the part of Turkish analysts. Germany made clear its intention to ask for the suspension of accession negotiations during the German elections campaign. Then after the elections when it became evident that a majority of EU countries (including France) opposed the severing of accession negotiations, the idea was to reduce pre-accession financing for Turkey.

This time, the reduction did not take place, despite the declaration by German Chancellor Angela Merkel on the eve of the summit. The Council Conclusions, which represent the official stance of the EU, do not mention the issue. Only a very light sentence was used, stating merely that the leaders "held a debate on relations" with the country.

On the other hand, cooperation for illegal and forced migration issues has been very strongly emphasized. In two different paragraphs, the Council reaffirmed the importance it gives to this cooperation. The official wording is "(...) the European Council further calls for the following:

*showing full commitment to our cooperation with Turkey on migration and to support for the Western Balkans;

*full and non-discriminatory implementation of the EU-Turkey Readmission Agreement with all Member States."

Clearly, the relationship between Turkey and the EU has shifted from "deep cooperation and integration" towards "realpolitik with a third country." More and more, our relations with EU officials are impregnated with a sense of reciprocal but hard-to-swallow necessity. Our relations with the Federal Republic of Germany are reminiscent of the time when Germany was divided. Usually the first news in West German information channels would start with the same sentence: "Im DDR..." The German Democratic Republic was always the focal point of the public agenda. Very harsh criticism was made, but on the other hand, starting with Willy Brandt, "Ostpolitik" never allowed severing economic relations between the two Germanys. That was one of the best examples of political realism, which in the end has been beneficial for the Federal Republic. However, it took the disappearance of the socialist regime and normalization of relations required a worldwide change in international relations.

So here we are, having extremely bad official relations with Germany, having very difficult and almost hostile relations with the U.S. and having totally lost our dream to one day be a member of the EU. Now the essential question is: Will these developments change our alliance system and our objective to be part of "Western" cooperation and integration, politically, socially, economically, legally and militarily?

Let me affirm without ambiguity that there is no "alternative" system nor alliance for Turkey in the present situation of international relations. Alliances are hard to establish and even harder to demote. The Ottoman Empire, by the end of the 19th century established a close alliance with Prussia, which was completing German reunification. It took two world wars to demote this alliance, mainly because Germany was rendered totally passive at the international level after WW II. Even having replaced Germany with the U.S. regarding political and military alliance starting from 1947 did not isolate Turkey from Germany. In 1963, when Germany needed a migrant labor force in the aftermath of the building of the Berlin Wall, it turned towards Turkey, which responded favorably immediately. For the first time in history, Turkey was sending abroad a sizable community, while Germany was welcoming a culturally and linguistically very different migrant community.

Such a migration flow could have created immense problems; it did not… I will not elaborate on the reasons why the co-existence of German Turks with Germans has been a success, in many aspects, but I would certainly like to underline a very important issue: The relationship and cooperation between the two countries, and more importantly between the two societies, is here to stay. It would be a very good idea not to "demonize" each other, especially at the level of official declarations because of conjectural conflicts and problems.

Under Justice and Development Party (AK Party) governments, Turkey approached the EU at a level never attained in its history and was able to sit at last at the accession negotiations table. Under the same governance, Turkey is now light-years away from having "acceptable" relations with the EU and there is no clear perspective as to how this conflictual issue will be solved.

Long gone are the times when the government was declaring its objective to turn "the Copenhagen criteria into Ankara criteria and abide by them anyhow." Both sides, first the EU then Turkey have turned their back on these principles. This is a very sorry but obvious statement.

Nonetheless, this does not mean that the principles embedded in the Copenhagen criteria are obsolete or wrong. The fact that our political relations with the EU in general and Germany in particular are bad should not make us think that there is a better alternative, "the Eurasian" bloc. There is no such bloc and compiling non-democratic countries in associations based on immediate interests have never given any positive result in the long run.

Reducing pre-accession aids to Turkey will not have any tangible effect on the Turkish economy, but the symbolism of such a gesture will be felt by generations to come. Threatening each other with punitive measures has never been a good idea in international relations in the past; it is not a good idea today.

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