Saturday

15th May 2021

Opinion

EU-Turkey ties will survive war of words

  • A more assertive relationship with Turkey is in store for Europe (Photo: svenwerk)

The current tone between the European Union and Turkey - some have spoken of a war of words - reflects an incompatibility between president Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s political choices on the domestic front and Turkey's economic, financial, and security interests on the international scene.

The situation is not going to temper any time soon.

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It is probable that the Turkish president - the first to be elected directly by voters - will remain assertive on the international stage, as this serves him and his party well at the ballot box.

Turkey's Western allies will continue to be surprised, and at times irritated, by a Turkish narrative that seems almost perfectly at odds with the country’s existing affiliations, including to Nato, and its proclaimed ambitions, namely toward EU membership.

This sorry state of affairs will provide pretexts for some Turkey foes in the West to plead for putting more distance between us and this uneasy partner.

Yet this would mean all too quickly forgetting the many Turkish citizens hoping for true democratic progress and respect for diversity, as well as the EU’s strategic interest in a stable and democratic Turkey.

Given the current international landscape, the EU is likely to be increasingly assertive with Turkey in at least three respects.

It will keep defending fundamental liberties and rule of law.

It will keep stressing the requirement of sealing the Turkey-ISIS border and fostering counter-terrorism co-operation in what is a common homeland security threat.

Finally, it will act in defence of a sound economic growth pattern in Turkey, because both partners have an interest in a healthy Turkish economy, one that is already fully integrated to the EU in terms of industrial production and remains a large and dynamic market.

Arguments about corruption allegations, suppression of dissent or “lessons in freedoms” will not hide the fundamentals: Turkey's economic anchor is and will remain the EU, while its security anchor is and will remain Nato.

All attempts to travel in another direction during the past few years have led to dead ends. The new rhetoric about Turkey-Russia economic co-operation is unlikely to very far either.

There are five key areas where the EU and Turkey can work together to keep their relationship on track.

First, counterterrorism co-operation must be kept an absolute priority, especially in regard to European jihadists and oil smuggling (the United States is also part of this effort).

Second, the EU and Turkey should modernise the Customs Union and look at ways to associate Turkey, under the appropriate conditions, with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership.

Third, advancements should be made on the EU-Turkey visa facilitation process and the implementation of the readmission agreement covering irregular migrants from third countries.

Fourth, both Turkey and the EU should co-operate fully on alleviating the tragedy of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees, including the issue of semi-permanent resettlements.

For this, the EU and Turkey should promote the convening of an international conference together with the UNHCR, following up on a German initiative in October.

Finally, while Turkey’s EU accession process is essentially on hold until the country returns to a normal rule-of-law architecture, one important exception should be made by the EU (i.e. by Cyprus) to let the discussions on chapters 23 and 24 (dealing with rule of law) go forward in mutual interest.

This is not a revolution of EU policy, and is least of all a distancing from Turkey.

It is a re-ordering of priorities demanded by the current international situation, including Turkey's domestic constraints and the EU’s foreign policy interests. A more assertive relationship with Turkey is in store for Europe; and the assertiveness will be both ways.

Marc Pierini is an analyst at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank, and a former EU ambassador to Turkey

Disclaimer

The views expressed in this opinion piece are the author's, not those of EUobserver.

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