Last week, I had the opportunity to participate in a bilateral meeting in Paris organized by the EU Affairs Ministry. It concerned the revival of Turkey-EU relations through bilateral meetings with journalists, academicians and representatives of think tanks and research institutions from Turkey and France.
Needless to say, the present situation of Turkish-EU relations does not help to create lively cooperation between Turks and the French. Still, some significant issues became visible during a three-hour discussion. As I am not allowed to disclose the content of the meeting, I will focus on what I declared and my analysis of the mutual anxieties, grievances and discontent. Unfortunately, this is all that we have now in talking about Turkey-EU relations – grievances and despair.
Rapprochement between Turkey and Russia seriously disturbs EU analysts. There is ongoing apprehension about a profound change in Turkey's alliance system. A very large majority of decision makers in France and elsewhere in Western Europe see President Vladimir Putin's Russia as a threat. Developments in Crimea, Georgia and Ukraine support them in their analyses.
Taking a step back, we could see that developments in Russia, especially after the Mikhail Gorbachev era, were the consequence of European and U.S. shortsightedness. The U.S.-Soviet deal was not to expand NATO and help Russia get closer to international economic institutions to ease its transformation. The only real cooperation happened during the Gulf War in 1991, when the ailing Soviet Union totally stood back, the U.N. gave the green light to a military intervention led by the U.S. but supported virtually by everyone, to oust Saddam Hussein from Kuwait.
The trouble is that Russia, which has never really experienced a parliamentary democracy, was not taking the path of a democratic regime. Under Leonid Brezhnev, the Soviet Union was able to cope with the military might of the U.S. and was still able to export an ideology, albeit antiquated, and it was also able to sustain its own model through domination by a single party. Under Putin, Russia is not able to sustain any military comparison with the U.S., but still has a military that can be sent overseas. There is no ideology left to be exported, as the only doctrine that is used by Russian is that democratic regimes can commit faults, even deep errors, so they are not trustworthy. On the other hand, unlike the Soviet Union, Russia today depends chiefly on its exports – mainly of oil and gas – to developed European countries. What is left is the domination of a single man, very much like under Stalin, or Nikita Khrushchev or Brezhnev, supported by a plethoric administration.
Such regimes are not reformable and there have been no truly participative, transparent democratic elections in Russia for a long time, not to mention that becoming an opposition figure can be very dangerous for one's health. Such regimes cannot have deep integrations with other countries, except with a limited scope and basis, so long as mutual interests coincide.
This had happened many times between the Soviet Union and the Republic of Turkey. The Red Army sent the Turkish Armed Forces its first armored vehicles, including tanks, upon the personal demand from Stalin in 1932. Even in the Cold War period, Turkey did not hesitate to import technology and investments from the Soviet Union. Each time Turkey's allies in Europe and the U.S. had cold feet, Soviet technology was used as an alternative. It has been true for steel mills in İskenderun as well as petrochemical plants in Yarımca. This did not make Turkey deviate from having a very staunch Atlantic policy for external affairs and staying a dependable ally in NATO.
Rapprochement between Turkey and Russia cannot be dangerous for anyone except Turkey itself. Getting closer to the EU requires the fulfillment of strong conditionality, even if some member states are far away from EU standards today. Getting closer to Russia does not have any conditionality except to be on the same wavelength for some external policy issues.
Bringing together undemocratic regimes has always given way to very tragic consequences in the past. There is no sign that today it would bring any different results. Coping with the EU is a very difficult task for Turkey, especially taking into consideration the inexcusable double standards used in accession negotiations. The alternative is definitely not turning its back on an ever-diminishing number of democratic regimes to instead move closer to undemocratic regimes. At a time when the "greatest" democracy in the world, the U.S., is moving away from democratic principles, it is high time for Turkey and the EU to get closer based on transparency and cooperation.