JOOST – Turkey and the EU: neither with nor without each other

Turkey and the EU: neither with nor without each otherOne of the results of last weekendand#39s arrest of Turkish journalists has been a new round of debate in Europe on the future of Turkey-EU relations. Several leaders of EU member states spoke out strongly against the repression of opposition media, seen as just one part of an extremely worrying overall slide toward authoritarianism in Turkey.

Those concerns were, however, not translated into concrete actions against Turkey for reasons we all know: The EU needs Turkey to deal with other, more pressing, issues (European jihadists, the Islamic State [also known as the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL)], Russia and energy).In the European Parliament and in some national parliaments, politicians across the board expressed their frustration with this approach by their governments, purely based on strategic calculations.

Traditional opponents of Turkeyand#39s EU membership argued the time had come to stop negotiating. Old friends of Turkey ventilated their disappointment about the anti-democratic behavior of the Turkish government, but were deeply divided on where to go from here.

Some went as far as calling for a temporary suspension of accession talks, but most shied away from such a radical break. In the end, the debates were unsatisfactory because they left the key question for most Europeans unanswered: How to be angry with Turkey without pulling the plug for good?Fortunately, some long-time observers came up with suggestions on how to proceed.

Bloomberg, an influential news site for financial markets, called on EU politicians to demonstrate some patience: andquotOnly Turks can decide how they want to live. The best the EU can do is to go on pressing Recep Tayyip ErdoIan in public over media freedoms and the rule of law while relying on close trade and investment ties to keep the country bound to Europe.

andquotMarc Pierini, analyst at Carnegie Europe, a Brussels-based think tank, and a former EU ambassador to Turkey, underlined the conclusions from a report he published together with Sinan ulgen just before the latest row between Turkey and the EU broke out. According to the authors, relations between Ankara and Brussels are about more than Turkeyand#39s potential accession to the EU.

There are several areas where the EU and Turkey can and must work together to keep their relationship on track: Counterterrorism cooperation, modernizing the Customs Union and associating Turkey with the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) between the EU and the US, continuing with the EU-Turkey visa facilitation process, and combining efforts on alleviating the tragedy of the Syrian and Iraqi refugees. On all of those issues, both Turkey and the EU have a clear interest to make common cause, even if they donand#39t like each otherand#39s policies in other fields and are fed up with an accession process that is going nowhere.

All these attempts to prevent Turkey and the EU from breaking up reminded me of a very informative policy paper published in November by Nathalie Tocci of the Italian Institute on International Affairs. She presented three scenarios for the future relations between Turkey and the EU.

These days, we seem to be getting closer to her first one, that of growing competition and conflict between Turkey and the EU in which, eventually, Turkey decides to step out because the prospects for full membership are no longer credible and the EU accession process has become a liability for Turkey, in Tocciand#39s words andquotan annoying reminder of the countryand#39s democratic deficits.andquot In the second scenario, both sides abandon the accession process without slamming the door and remain good friends for long-term economic and strategic reasons.

The third option is based on a post-crisis EU with a more integrated core consisting of the eurozone, and an outer circle where countries like the UK are happy to have escaped the further EU integration they reject. Turkey would probably be very happy to join the Brits in such a new EU construction and other EU member states would not mind.

Personally, in the long run I prefer the last scenario. The most realistic course of events for the foreseeable future is probably offered by Pierini and ulgen and their suggestions that allow for a combination of controlled animosity and pragmatic cooperation.

SOURCE: Today’s Zaman