Trouble on the tracks: Averting the Turkey-EU ‘train wreck’

Press release

Not too late to salvage EU-Turkey relations, despite EU parliament vote

Despite the vote in the European Parliament to “freeze” Turkey’s EU accession talks, the troubled EU-Turkey relationship has not reached the end of the line, according to a new report from the European Council on Foreign Relations.

Trouble on the tracks: averting the Turkey-EU “train wreck” notes that the relationship is ‘in crisis’ following Turkey’s attempted coup of July 15. This is partly due to the scale of Turkey’s crackdown since the July coup attempt, but also partly due to Europe’s sluggish response to the coup itself – a failing for which there is no real excuse. As a result, there is no going back to the romantic optimism of 2005, when accession talks began.

But it is not in Europe’s interest for Turkey to give up on Europe, which could exacerbate its existing problems and turn it towards Russia. Moreover the two sides are too interdependent – on economic, counter-terror and migration issues especially, to sever ties completely.

European leaders should bear this in mind when they meet in December – and so they should not formally end Turkey’s accession process. This is also the best course of action to help breath oxygen into Turkey’s fading democracy.

Instead, steps should be taken to preserve the relationship. The best way Europe could demonstrate good faith to Turkey whilst upholding its principles is to offer Ankara an upgraded customs union, which could provide economic benefits to Turkey in tandem with political benchmarks to protect against a further deterioration of Turkish democracy.

Rhetoric matters, too. The report finds ‘unacceptable’ that no EU head of state has visited Turkey since the coup. As well as changing this, Europe must communicate better to the Turkish population to explain the reasons for its actions and underline that the door to eventual membership remains open.

Ankara, for its part, must understand that re-instating the death penalty would end all hope of eventual EU membership. While President Erdogan supports the move, Turkey’s many cabinet members who oppose the policy change must do more to speak out against such a deterioration in Turkey’s human rights standards.

Report author, Asli Aydintasbas said,

“Instead of politicians in both Europe and Turkey condemning the other to score political points at home, both sides need to develop ‘strategic patience’. Turkey’s history has been an ebb and flow between Westernisation and nativist reactions to it. It is not too late to salvage this critically important relationship. And upgrading the customs union is the most obvious practical step which could help in this regard.”

On the migration compact between Turkey and the EU, the report notes that the deal will likely continue, despite threats from President Erdogan to the contrary. However, in 2017, a new type of refugee issue will likely emerge, with Turkish journalists, bureaucrats, Kurds, and members of the Gülen community seeking refuge in Europe from persecution in Turkey. 

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