Saving Turkey-EU relations more important now than ever

By Piero Castellano

As diplomatic relations at the top level plunge to new depths, in a show of unity, a Greek MEP and a Turkish politician and intellectual have released an appeal on video, pleading to EU to not give up on Turkey.

The EU will be seeking a summit with Turkey in the coming months according to Donald Tusk. Source: Hürriyet Daily News

The slaughter in Aleppo, the ongoing refugee crisis and the destabilizing influence of Russia loomed large over this week’s EU summit. But Turkey, the eternal candidate for EU accession that is slipping into authoritarian rule, and has an undeniable say in such issues, will have been the elephant in the room.

Last month, the European Parliament, by a large majority, passed a resolution calling to freeze accession negotiations in protest of Turkey’s relentless crackdown on media, academia and political dissidents, including elected officials and Members of Parliament. Though the resolution was nonbinding, many have seen it as the final nail in the coffin of Turkey’s accession to full EU membership.

Speaking to Independent Turkey, Kader Sevinç – an EU Representative of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) – argued that although today’s picture of Turkish democracy is not promising, the EU is not blameless, criticizing them for: a “visionless approach and self-destructive veto policy on negotiation chapters related to fundamental rights, judiciary and freedoms” that marked the absence of the Union and contributed to the degradation of democracy.

In response to the EU’s stance against Turkey in recent months, President Erdoğan has escalated his anti-western rhetoric, claiming that Turkey has nothing to gain from Europe, and announcing that it would seek membership of Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Turkey’s Kader Sevinç, who is also Presidency Board Member of the Party of European Socialists (PES), and Greece’s Miltos Kyrkos, a Greek Member of the European Parliament and Vice-Chair of the EU – Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, have called on EU leaders for a “more consistent and inclusive policy” toward Turkey.

“We believe that the freeze of negotiations would be an example of the EU’s long-standing serious policy failures vis-à-vis Turkeys. The solution is better integration of society, not isolation” Ms. Sevinç passionately remarked. “We need a better performing, consistent, value-based, competitive and visionary EU in a rapidly changing world.”

It is worth remembering that accession to the European Union is not an “on/off” switch then. Chapters must be fulfilled to ensure democratic, economic and social standards for all the countries of the union. Rather than simply rewarding a candidate country, opening a new chapter offers challenges and incentives; a goal to achieve rather than an award to be given.

Sevinç also reminds us that the decline of Turkey’s democratic fortunes has had damaging reverberations in Europe too: “If Turkey’s accession process had been well-managed, it would yield added-value for Turkish and EU citizens with multiplier impact and today’s picture would be different.”

Instead, “European politics has been held hostage by populism on the rise, and the spread of illiberal democracy in Europe.” This rings true in Europe, following the outcome of the Brexit vote which many argue was decided by baseless claims about immigration, particularly the narrative that ‘10 millions Turks were ready to move to UK’. The leader of this campaign and Brexit champion Boris Johnson is now the British Foreign Secretary.

But there are reasons for optimism: after years of disenchantment, a recent poll found that 75 percent of Turks still support EU membership, with support rising 13 percent this year, as Ms. Sevinç points out in the video. At the same time, Turkey and the EU remain vital economic partners, with common trade worth more than 140 billions euro every year, with most foreign investment in Turkey coming from EU nations, as Mr. Kyrkos notes.

“Turkey deserves to be no less than a fully working democracy” quips Ms. Sevinç, ending on a positive note: “I believe that my generation will adopt and implement progressive policies that Turkish citizens deserve. We will work for a better Europe as well. A Europe which deserves the confidence of its citizens; their pride of being European, their optimism for the future.”

But while she believes that Turkey’s accession would be “a triumphal moment in the expansion of EU’s global power” and “a great achievement of the human civilization’s progress towards ever better democracy”, she warns: “If there is a fire in Turkey there can be no peace in Europe.”

Borders have never saved countries from neighboring conflicts, and the very history of Europe proves that peace and democracy are best achieved through integration. Turkey and the EU need each other now more than ever.


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