Europe and Turkey – How to maintain a relationship in turbulent times
ECFR’s EU-Turkey Power Audit shows perceptions of Turkey within 28 member states
A new study reveals the varying motivations of the 28 EU member states for keeping Turkey close – but not too close. “The Discreet Charm of Hypocrisy: An EU-Turkey Power Audit“ by the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) highlights the factors that render Turkey’s EU accession process dysfunctional. The public strongly opposes Turkey’s EU accession, but European officials, diplomats, and decision-makers want to maintain it in its current state of inconclusiveness. Asli Aydıntaşbaş, the author of the study that was released on 26 March 2018, recommends continued engagement with Turkey outside the scope of accession through bilateral ties, counter-terrorism cooperation and a human rights dialogue within the Council of Europe.
ECFR’s EU-Turkey Power Audit shows:
- 46% of polled EU decision makers stated that their government “supports Turkey becoming a member of the EU”, while another 25% said that there is “strong support” for Turkish membership within their governments.
- But 16 out of 28 EU member states want to keep accession process “frozen” as it is – only 10 would like to open new chapters in the accession negotiations.
- Turkey’s economic potential is an important factor in maintaining the accession process: 61% of respondents believe that Turkish membership would provide economic opportunities for the EU.
- Most member states suggest that Turkey’s image is worse than it was a few years ago and that their public is opposed to Turkish membership – but only 4 member states make a case for greater emphasis on human rights.
Asli Aydıntaşbaş, ECFR senior policy fellow, commenting on the findings before the EU-Turkey leaders' meeting on 26 March in Varna, Bulgaria, says: “European member states like the idea of Turkey more than what they see before of them.” Countries, she argues, want Turkey on board “for a wide range of reasons that can be summed up as fear or greed.” While Italy, Spain and France are drawn to Turkey’s economic potential, Greece, Cyprus and Bulgaria believe that a Turkey within the accession framework would pose less of a national security threat. Europeans and Turkey use the power of hypocrisy to build a model for cooperation with the EU. Paradoxically, dysfunction and hypocrisy help maintain the accession process – albeit without any progress.
“We need to develop a new language to describe the importance of EU-Turkey relations outside the scope of the accession process. Perhaps a good place to start is to frame the debate as ‘Turkey and Europe’ as opposed to ‘Turkey and the EU’,” said Aydıntaşbaş.
European and Turkish leaders should downplay the accession angle and instead direct their focus on areas of mutual interest, such as foreign policy, counter-terrorism, and the economic partnership. “Modernising the EU-Turkey customs union is one of the ways we can make this relationship more functional in turbulent times,” said Aydıntaşbaş.