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12/15/16

Turkey: Getting EU-Turkey Relations Wrong

I disagree with Mehmet Ugur’s analysis and conclusion. Would he still make the same recommendation after the barbaric PKK/TAK killings in Istanbul over the weekend?

I disagree with him that forcing Ankara to accept the EU’s conditionality, and by imposing suspension until the Erdogan regime gives in, will work. Conditionality makes things worse. In Turkey’s case, it is a recipe for disaster, throwing fuel on to the flames of polarization, punishing all Turkish citizens, particularly those who still dream of a full democracy with the rule of law, press freedom and all other human freedoms, and, more than likely, generating an uncontrollable influx of refugees into Europe, an extreme nightmare scenario!

The fact, sadly ignored by Ugur, is that Turkish patience with the EU has run out, and not without reason. It has been almost 30 years since Turgut Ozal’s application for accession. Several lesser democracies have been accepted. Earlier, Greece, Portugal and Spain, fresh from fascism, were admitted precisely to foster democratization. In Turkey’s case, double standards have been applied. Europe has missed a grand opportunity for inter-cultural dialogue and a step towards a more btolerant world. Turkish membership would have been more than a trade/political cooperation deal. It would have democratized the Turkish state, helped settle the Kurdish issue through democracy, stimulated economic growth, and, at the same time, it would have cemented a cultural bridge between the Christian and Muslim worlds. Dare one imagine that Syrian and other Middle East conflicts could have been avoided? At least Ankara, in earlier stages of these conflicts, would have followed a more balanced, pro-EU stance, a less US-centric policy.

Sadly, it is now simply too late. Islamophobia and populist extremism have reached plague proportions, engulfing Europe now. For that reason, visa liberalization for Turkish citizens is dead in the water. European leaders know it, R(ecep)T(Tayyip E(rdogan) knows it. Just leave it at that. Why the European Parliament decided, as it did, to kick a dead horse, and go for suspension, is beyond understanding. [I refuse to think it was simply an irrational act to provoke RTE]. Unlike Ugur, I, for one, believe EU should maintain an open-ended dialogue with Ankara. This is desirable, not only for future democratization in Turkey, but it is in EU’s own self-interest. It would ensure orderly management of refugee flows in the shorter-term, while maintaining EU values in the face of such threats as Islamophobia, Neo-Nazism and other extremist movements, now so strong in Austria, Hungary, and elsewhere.

On the Kurdish problem, if the EU had fairly pushed ahead with Turkish accession, it would have had infinitely more clout with the Turkish government than the current, virtually zero influence. In Ankara’s eyes, Europe looks increasingly to be supporting “the enemy”, i.e. terrorists, closing an eye to large volumes of financial help sent to the PKK, at face value a terrorist organization.

That being said, there is no doubt that Erdogan is a political opportunist [like most politicians], no doubt taking advantage of the failed coup to become even more of an authoritarian leader. Yes, his crackdown is excessive and Turkish democracy is hurting. 

Read more: Getting EU-Turkey Relations Wrong

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