21st Mar 2018


Reasons not to end EU-Turkey talks

  • The failed putsch in July prompted Erdogan's purge (Photo: Eser Karadağ)

The EU and Turkey have reached one of the lowest, yet at the same time most important moments in their decades-old relationship.

While civil liberties and freedoms in Turkey have been under attack since the 2013 Gezi Park protests, the massive purges that began in the aftermath of the 15 July failed coup attempt have escalated violations of the rule of law and human rights to unprecedented levels.

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  • Turkish diplomats don't care what the EU says any more (Photo: Council of the EU)

The recent operations against the opposition pro-Kurdish Peoples Democratic Party (HDP) and left-leaning pro-secular Cumhuriyet newspaper have led to calls for the suspension of Turkey’s EU accession negotiations.

MEP and Turkey rapporteur, Kati Piri, has called on the EU to immediately freeze accession talks until the Turkish government returned to a normal path.

Others have a different perspective.

Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, for example, said it would be a “serious foreign policy mistake” to end membership talks, unless Turkey reintroduced the death penalty, something that Erdogan has openly said he would back if MPs approve it.

Clearly there are concerns from some member states that it could increase the chances of Ankara abandoning the EU-Turkey migration deal.

Turkey’s main opposition party, the Republican People’s Party (CHP), has also signalled their strong opposition to such a development.

A statement from deputy chairman responsible for foreign affairs, Ozturk Yilmaz, calls on the EU not to be provoked by Ankara, stressing that a suspension of talks would have dire consequences.

Four reasons

Indeed, there are a number of reasons why suspending the talks could result in the EU shooting itself in the foot.

Firstly, freezing a process that was more or less killed off by the EU itself years ago will have absolutely no positive result on developments unfolding in Turkey.

It is rather farcical to hear EU officials talking about the accession talks and Turkish membership as if it was an ongoing process without problems and that Turkish accession was expected to happen.

Rather, the situation in Turkey is likely to worsen and the dialogue that the EU currently has with Turkey would come to an end at all levels. Turkey’s leadership currently does not care what the EU has to say, a sentiment that is shared by a considerable part of society.

Secondly, the EU would be abandoning democratic forces in Turkey for whom the EU anchor still remains important despite the leverage that the EU has lost over the country.

Turkey’s democratisation process is still seen as equal to Turkey’s Europeanisation process. We have all witnessed what happened when the EU process was slowed down in the aftermath of the launch of the accession negotiations. Suspending talks now may mean the final nail in the coffin.

Thirdly, it would more or less kill the negotiations for a settlement of the Cyprus problem, which are presently in a very important and delicate stage with hopes - albeit slim ones - that a peace deal could be agreed by the end of the year.

Ensuring Ankara’s support for the deal, particularly related to the security and guarantor issue, will be crucial for success. With the end of EU talks it is unlikely that Turkey will play a constructive role and the last two years of talks between the two most-pro-settlement leaders - Nicos Anastasiades and Mustafa Akinci - would have been for nothing.

Finally, it would risk further instability in a region already at boiling point.

Developments in the Middle East will have direct consequences for security and stability in the EU. Operations against the so-called Islamic State group (IS) in Syria and Iraq may trigger new refugee waves.

Hundreds of European foreign fighters are also expected to flee Iraq and Syria to go back to their home countries in Europe.

Ending EU talks would likely push Turkey further into the arms of the Kremlin. Hence the price of totally losing Turkey could be very high for the EU.

Is it possible?

Even if all these factors were not taken into consideration, it would not be an easy task to suspend the talks.

While it can be done with qualified majority voting, this still necessitates (according to Article 238 of the Lisbon Treaty) 55 percent of member states to vote in favour and that the proposal is supported by member states representing at least 65 percent of the total EU population.

This figure increases when the Council votes on a proposal not coming from the Commission or the EU foreign service to at least 72 percent of Council members, representing at least 65 percent of the EU population.

It will be challenging for EU member states to agree on such an important issue, which will surely have grave consequences for Europe and beyond. This was reflected in the meeting of EU foreign ministers on 14 November, where no conclusive statement or decision were made.

Amanda Paul is a policy analyst at the EPC think tank in Brussels. Demir Murat Seyrek is a policy adviser at the European Foundation for Democracy, an EU-funded institute also in Brussels

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