Academic Aydın-Duzgit: Turkey-EU agreement not ethical, a step backward in relations

“Because this type of relationship refers to the strategic partnership and/or ‘privileged membership’ supported by Europe’s right-wing politicians all along. It signals a different track from membership. This type of relationship only supports Turkey’s membership in the EU at a rhetorical level, while it focuses on cooperation with Turkey with regard to key issues such as migration and energy, and provides certain funds and the prospect of [visa-]free movement [to the EU] for Turkey,” said Senem Aydın-Duzgit, who studies Turkey and the European Union.

She added that this type of relationship seems to suit Ankara well, as no pressure is imposed by the EU on the government with respect to major deficits, democracy or human rights.

Just days before the deal between the EU and Turkey was reached, two prominent Turkish journalists were jailed for reporting on alleged smuggling of arms to Syria by the government. Both opposition and international organizations condemned their jailing. There have also been hundreds of cases opened against journalists and citizens for “insulting the president.”

Even though Ankara committed to stop refugees going to the European countries in exchange for money and possible visa liberalization, observers have doubts about its effective implementation.

Answering our questions, Aydın-Duzgit elaborated on the issue.

First of all, would you present us with your general evaluation of the agreement between Turkey and the EU? Is this a step forward in terms of future of relations or not?

The topic of Syrian refugees has been a problem for Europe for some time. EU states want Turkey to stop Syrian refugees before they enter Europe since most of them enter Europe through Turkey. This is the agreement’s goal, and in order to reach that goal, the EU is ready to make certain compromises with Turkey. However, it is not possible to say that this agreement is a step forward in regard to Turkey’s membership to the EU. On the contrary, this agreement is a step backward, resembling the official EU stance toward Turkey in the 1990s because this type of relationship refers to the strategic partnership and/or “privileged membership” supported by Europe’s right-wing politicians all along. It signals a different track from membership. This type of relationship only supports Turkey’s membership in the EU at a rhetorical level, while it focuses on cooperation with Turkey with regard to key issues such as migration and energy, and provides certain funds and the prospect of [visa-]free movement [to the EU] for Turkey. So this is partnership, which is different from membership. Membership relates to the Copenhagen criteria and it involves a transformation process for the candidate country to have a better democracy in which human rights and freedoms are at the forefront. In Turkey’s case, we see that the country’s importance is increasingly being stressed as a strategic partner. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, formerly a conservative politician, was fiercely opposed to Turkey’s full membership to the EU in the 1990s, and we know his skeptical views on future enlargement, yet he was one of the most prominent supporters of this agreement.

When the EU’s interests are on the line, Turkey’s human rights record does not matter. Can we say that?

Yes, this is very clear. When EU’s interests are on the line, questions regarding democracy and human rights can easily be skipped. German Chancellor Angela Merkel can visit the president [Recep Tayyip Erdogan] just before the elections or the progress report can be delayed to not to upset the government just before the election. And currently, those who do not wish to see Turkey as a member are in the majority in the EU. This is the ideal relationship for them. When it comes to the Turkish government, this type of relationship also seems to suit them very well — there is no EU that would put pressure on the government with regard to democracy and human rights, and the government can take advantage of some issues, like the issue of visa liberalization and 3 billion euros in funds from the EU for Turkey.

‘Agreement is not ethical’

Turkey and the EU will open a new negotiation chapter; what does that mean as far as enlargement of the EU and the inclusion of Turkey?

The opening of the new chapter will do very little toward furthering Turkey’s chances of membership. Opening Chapter 17, focusing on the economic and monetary policies of prospective states, has been talked about for the last two years. It seems like the EU has agreed to open Chapter 17 and talks will start on the chapter on Dec. 14. However, chapters dealing with democracy, human rights and the justice system (Chapters 23 and 24), which are currently being blocked by Cyprus, remain closed, despite the fact that the government has also demanded that the EU open these chapters. This is a clear indication that Turkey’s strategic partnership with the EU is being valued separately from its accession process to the EU. Indeed, this trend is similar to what has been happening in Turkey’s relations with other big states like the United States. So, realpolitik prevails in these countries’ relations with Turkey, as is often the case elsewhere. If there is progress with regard to the Cyprus issue, if a solution can finally be reached on the island, there might be a chance to close some of the chapters that were already opened. There are 35 chapters in total, including foreign, security and defense policy; the environment; justice, freedom and security and the free movement of goods. Only 13 chapters have been opened thus far, and only one closed, the chapter on science and research.

Some observers have expressed that they do not find this agreement ethical. What is your opinion in this regard?

I agree that this is not an ethical agreement, primarily for two reasons. Normally, you do not expect much ethics in international politics, but when the issue concerns an enlargement country, one expects at least a certain degree of engagement on human rights and fundamental freedoms in the candidate country concerned. Since the 1990s, the EU has conditioned Turkey’s membership process to Turkey meeting the Copenhagen criteria. Now, all of a sudden, all of that seems to have been forgotten. You can cooperate with an enlargement country — you should cooperate with an enlargement country on strategic issues, but not at the expense of the so-called fundamental “European” values. The agreement, as with other readmission agreements, is also ethically problematic because it refers to the “containment” of immigrants, treating them as if they are objects. Turkey is supposed to be the container that will hold the immigrants in exchange for certain rewards — and by the way, there are serious doubts as to whether Turkey will actually receive those rewards. So, the agreement is problematic both because of how it views immigrants and the way in which it ignores political issues related to Turkey.

‘EU member states unlikely to approve a visa liberalization policy for Turkish citizens’

Columnist and academic Cengiz Aktar said with regard to the agreement that “Turkey-EU relations have never been easy for more than half a century, but it has never been this low.” Your comment?

I agree with this observation. We saw lively developments in terms of Turkey-EU relations in the period of 1999 through 2005. Then we had a stagnant period from 2006 onwards. And now we are facing a stalemate. The latest agreement reminds us of the pre-1999 period in Turkey-EU relations — which is a negative development.

When it comes to visa liberalization, this was an issue discussed for years and there have been conditions, 72 of them, attached to it. Would you elaborate on the issue? Will it be possible for Turkish citizens to freely visit European Union countries without having to go through a strict visa regime?

Even though it is not possible to say that this agreement is not going to be implemented, it is highly unlikely that it will work under the current circumstances. First of all, migrants will go to Europe somehow, even if not through Turkey. They will find ways of going through the Western Balkans if the Turkey route is effectively blocked. Secondly, visa liberalization and the readmission agreement are linked together. Turkey needs to do what the 72 criteria talk about — border controls, implementing a legal framework attached to it, etc. There were already difficulties discussed in relation to the implementation of the readmission agreement, now together with the refugee crisis, it has become even more difficult. When it comes to visa liberalization, this can happen only after Turkey does what it needs to do with regard to the 72 criteria and then the member states have to approve visa liberalization for Turkish citizens. As the far right has been on the rise in Europe, especially after the Paris attacks, it is highly unlikely that the EU member states will approve a visa liberalization policy for Turkish citizens. Therefore, there are both political and technical difficulties in this regard. At the end, we might face a more difficult period for Turkey-EU relations because the lack of trust between the two sides is likely to increase if the deal falls through, threatening cooperation in different areas, as well as Turkey’s ultimate EU membership perspective.

EU states promised 3 billion euros to Turkey to help with the refugee crisis. Do you see this amount as enough to meet the needs? How is that money going to be spent?

There will be technical details attached to the issue of how this money is going to be spent, and it likely that these will be related to the implementation of the 72 criteria, as well as specific projects geared toward the well-being of the Syrian refugees in Turkey. It is even a success that the EU has managed to agree to give this amount to Turkey, but it also needs to be said that there are disagreements in the EU as to where this money will come from. Will it be enough? Probably not, but I do not think that there is a feasibility study to evaluate how much money is actually needed to meet the needs.