JOOST – Running hot and cold

Running hot and coldIt is fascinating to see these days how Turkey and the European Union are practicing the art of running hot and cold with each other One day, both lash out at each other with harsh statements, seemingly bringing their relationship to the point of collapse. The next day, like remorseful lovers, they try to make up and repair the damage done.

Remember, last week President Recep Tayyip ErdoIan basically said he could not care less whether Turkey becomes an EU member or not? I canand#39t remember any leader of an EU candidate country using such rude and blunt words.What happened a few days later? In a phone conversation, the same president told Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the new European Commission, that EU membership holds strategic importance for Turkey, and Juncker highlighted Turkish and EU joint efforts for progress in Turkeyand#39s EU accession process.

Nowadays, in order to understand what is going on between Ankara and Brussels, one needs to combine rereading Machiavelliand#39s aice on power politics with consulting the andldquoClinical Handbook of Psychological Disorders,andrdquo especially under the heading andldquoschizophreniaandrdquoI really feel pity for all those pro-government journalists and columnists whose task it is to explain, defend and legitimize the crooked paths used by their newspaperand#39s political master The Daily Sabah is a good example of how Justice and Development Party (AKP) loyalists struggle with the almost Herculean task of making sense of ErdoIanand#39s policy toward the EU.Some Sabah columnists opt to justify the presidentand#39s aggressive rhetoric by showing how bad the EU is.

They stress the rise of Islamophobia and blame the EU for not tackling racism that targets Muslims. Why? In the words of writer Markar Esayan, because of andquotthe classic arrogant Western perspective that looks down on the Middle East.

andquot In other words: Turkey has the right, even the obligation, to speak out against this modern version of Orientalism, dressed up, treacherously, as concern for media freedomOther columnists are more careful, convinced that, despite the current arm-waving, eventually EU membership will be a good thing for Turkey.Although Emre Gmen comes close to suggesting that the EU criticism is linked to Turkey being an overwhelmingly Muslim society, his main aice to both parties is to keep silent for a while and try to mend what can be mended.

He hopes Prime Minister Ahmet DavutoIlu will be able to mend some fences on his planned visit to Brussels in January.In his column, Burhanettin Duran echoes a feeling of many Turks of being treated unfairly by the EU.

He tries to formulate a sort of andquotnewandquot Turkey approach, representing a third way between complete rejection (not compatible, according to Duran, with Turkeyand#39s fundamental, Western orientation) and unquestioning obedience to the EU (part of the behavior of the andquotoldandquot, pre-AKP Turkey that lacked self-confidence). He calls it andquotcritical integrationandquot and describes it as follows: andquotIntegration into the EU must first and foremost remain open to some degree of autonomy that allows Turkey to pursue its national interests and self-identified priorities.

It cannot, furthermore, prevent the nation from speaking out against injustice around the world and inaction in the Middle East. Finally, the relationship must rest on mutual respect and interaction between equal partners.

andquotIt is an interesting effort to redirect the present talks, which are bogged down partly because of European intransigence and adherence to a model of enlargement that worked well in Central and Eastern Europe 15 years ago, but might have bumped up against its own limits in the case of Turkey. Duranand#39s suggestions relate to a debate among EU specialists and academics about the future structure of the EU (away from a andquotone-size-fits-allandquot membership model) and more flexible relations between the EU and candidate countries (Turkey, the Balkans) and its important neighbors (Ukraine).

The problem with Duranand#39s ideas is that he does not mention the elephant in the room, the unavoidable basics of each future model: a functioning democracy with full respect for the rule of law. As long as Turkey is backtracking on these fundamentals, all the talk about a new relationship between Turkey and the EU, albeit necessary, is either wishful thinking or a deliberate attempt to gloss over the present setbacks.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman