EU has little time to push away populism, mend ties with Turkey


At a time when such an ordinary reaction of respecting the result of a referendum in a candidate country is considered a concession, the European Union (EU) is criticized for being adrift at the populist atmosphere in Europe.

Speaking to Daily Sabah, diplomats and EU officials state that Turkey's requests for "fair treatment" are not something opposed by all in Brussels. As the anti-Turkey member states, like Austria and the Netherlands, are openly calling for the bloc to end the accession negotiations, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn loudly joined the choir, declaring "Turkey's EU dream is over, for now."

During one of his Brussels visits, Turkey's EU Affairs Minister Ömer Çelik told Daily Sabah that "although he [Hahn] is responsible for matters regarding the enlargement of the bloc, Hahn instead misuses his position and acts as an Austrian political figure looking to gain support with an anti-Turkey stance."

Hahn's words on ending "Turkey's EU dream" came a few days after EU's Foreign Affairs Chief Federica Mogherini spoke at an informal ministerial meeting in Malta, where she listed five points regarding the member states' views on Turkey.

The first point was that the EU was acknowledging the result of the referendum but expecting the constitutional amendments to be done by taking the observations of the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) into account, the very same organization that had sent pro-PKK members — who took part in the "no" campaign in the referendum — to observe the referendum. Mogherini later went on listing things that Turkey had to do in order to get approval of the bloc, including liftig the State of Emergency (SoE).

The amount of frustration the Turkish public feels was expressed by President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan during his return to the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Party). He referring to the statement by Mogherini, he said: "They listed five points: The first step has to be taken by Turkey, SoE has to be lifted [...] Skip all these, tell us what you yourself are going to do. Lift the SoE in France first."

In response to the EU's demands, he said, "There is no option other than opening chapters that you have not opened until now," referring to the individual policy areas that need to be concluded before Turkey joins the EU. "If you open them, then great; if you don't open them, then goodbye. Turkey is not their (the EU's) doorman."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently stated that EU Council President Donald Tusk and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker are planning to hold a meeting with Erdoğan on the sidelines of the NATO Summit in Brussels later this month.

Speaking to Daily Sabah, officials said the planned but unscheduled meeting would not be a summit but rather an unofficial meeting, since there is not much expected from its outcome. President Erdoğan commented on the planned meeting and said, "First you have to handle these chapters and fulfill your promises. Then we will sit at the able and talk. Otherwise, we have nothing left to discuss with you."

On the EU side of the story, there is no single voice. The German foreign minister says his country is "strictly against breaking off the accession talks [...] It would be the completely wrong reaction." Since Merkel openly stated for many years that she is not in favor of Turkey's membership, the top German diplomat's words are interpreted as a national election-related move. A possible end to the Turkey-EU migrant deal is thought to be costing Merkel her chancellor seat. Slovenia, Hungary and Lithuania were also calling for the continuation of the de facto frozen accession talks.

Austrian Prime Minister Christian Kern is straightforward when it comes to ties with Turkey. He said the EU should not let Turkey join the bloc, but rather "create a new relation" encompassing economic, security and migration interests. Turkey refutes such an offer and considers it as discriminatory and benefiting only the interest of the EU. While there is still some time for the NATO Summit, the EU leaders can go beyond repeating the well-worn rhetoric that "Turkey is an important partner for security, trade and migration." Such actions like banning the PKK activities in Europe, starting to extradite convicts to Turkey, fulfilling the promises mentioned at the EU-Turkey deal and accelerating negotiation on the opened chapters could boost the ties and make Ankara move in the same positive direction.

In the other scenario, where the EU pushes the realist option away, the two sides will end the negotiations. Bringing a halt to sharing counterterrorism intelligence, ending the migrant deal and shifting to a different geopolitical axis would be inevitable. In such a situation it would be too late to get back to the old days.

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