The formation of a common EU strategy on Turkey has so far proven to be wishful thinking, despite the fact that all member states agree that the steps back in democracy and rule of law in Turkey are alarming, according to prominent analysts of the think tank “European Policy Centre”, Amanda Paul and Demir Murat Seyrek.
The analysts underline that the EU should take into consideration that the anti-EU rhetoric from Turkish officials is likely to continue, in sigh of the local, parliamentary and presidential elections that will take place in 2019 in the country, thus avoid engaging at this point in a never-ending war of words with Ankara, but rather look to strengthen communication channels that would reduce tensions and provide support for Turkish democratic advocates.
Paul and Seyrek propose that the EU should consider taking the following steps:
- ” Stop talking about Turkey’s EU accession negotiations. Continually having an open debate on the issue of Turkish accession and threatening Turkey to freeze or suspend the negotiations – which in reality have been de facto frozen for years – is counter-productive. By doing so the EU is feeding the domestic objectives of both Turkey’s leadership and the Europe’s far-right and national populist parties. The never-ending threat of suspending negotiations as well as speculations over possible new arrangements for Turkey-EU relations also send a wrong message to all democrats in Turkey and undermine their work for democracy and European values under very difficult conditions. In this sense “silence is golden”. Furthermore, since the conclusions of the December 2016 European Council have stated that “under the currently prevailing circumstances, no new chapters are considered for opening”, there is really no reason to continue raising this issue.
- Increasing support for civil society and journalists. While objectively criticising the Turkish government is important, this should not turn into “Turkey bashing”, which is futile. Turkey is more than its government and President Erdogan and the EU can go beyond criticising when it comes to supporting freedom of speech. Despite major problems and political pressure, Turkish civil society is still extremely dynamic. Turkish journalists are also very creative in finding alternative channels to do independent journalism. Digital journalism through websites, social media and video sharing platforms is booming. These alternative channels are much more developed in Turkey when compared to EU countries. The EU can and should provide concrete support. Today, initiatives are afoot to freeze funds under the Instrument for Pre-Accession Assistance (IPA II) funds. The EU should explore ways instead to redirect the money into projects supporting Turkish civil society, pro-democracy initiatives, free media and freedom of speech. Some EUR 4.45 Billion is available for Turkey under IPA II for the period 2014-20 and only a small amount has been spent so far. The European Parliament has already made such a proposal. The European Commission should therefore urgently work on a plan to provide this support in a more structured way. Even a small portion of IPA II could make a significant difference for Turkish civil society and media”.
- Launching the negotiations to modernise the Customs Union. Moving ahead with the modernisation of Turkey’s Customs Union (CU) with the EU may prove to be the one thing that could prevent a total collapse of relations as benefits can be reaped by both sides. Presently the European Commission is waiting for the European Council to give it the mandate to begin negotiations. This green light is not yet there because some Member States, including Germany, are blocking the road. In the run up to the German federal elections on 24 September, Chancellor Merkel has asked the European Commission to suspend preparatory work to this end”.
At present, the Customs Union is confined to industrial products but the rationale is to extend to services, the agricultural sector and public procurement. The mistake is, according to the authors of the survey, that the “economic card” is used as a means to exert pressure on Turkey and not as an incentive for Ankara, which significantly limits its impact. It would be more productive if EU leaders could agree on a date to open negotiations for the final ratification of the agreement, at the same time putting forth a certain set of political criteria to be met by Ankara as precondition.
EPC argues that Turkey should feel the EU more by its side on the PKK issue. According to a report issued by Europol in July 2017, despite the fact the EU has declared the Kurdish PKK a “terrorist organization” in 2002, its supporters continue to freely carry out propaganda activities and fundraising in several EU members, such as Germany, Belgium, France and Romania. Thus, in addition to the EU’s single policy, Member States should take individual measures in this direction, the authors point out.
Another strain in relations in the abolition of the visa, the liberalization of entry visas is a complex issue with large technical requirements. Most Turkish citizens, however, unaware of the technical details feel injured by the European authorities – especially after the recent visa liberisation for the citizens of Georgia and Ukraine.
The relationship between Turkey and the European Union has never been an easy one. Over the past 50 years there have seen great progress and backslides. Today, however, Euro-Turkish relations are going through an unprecedented crisis, with Europe seemingly helpless to take action in favour of democracy. But Turkey has not ceased to be a strategic partner of Europe and all ways to strengthen Euro-Turkish relations must be explored.
Keeping communication channels open and taking small steps at a time is the best course of action for Europe in the foreseeable future. The collapse of relations between the EU and Turkey would not benefit either side, the EPC analysts conclude./ΙΒΝΑ