1. Turkey and Europe: not even friends with benefits
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*Turkey-EU ties are currently marked by mutual resentments and appear to be going nowhere.
In a sign of the times, Brussels is withholding 175 million euros ($206 million) in pre-accession funds for Turkey, which on paper remains a candidate for EU membership.
Ankara, however, continues to defiantly say it doesn’t need EU money or membership. It is, nevertheless, trying to develop ties with individual EU members, which seems to represent a search for another kind of relationship with Europe.
Meanwhile, cooperation between Turkey and the EU continues in key areas on the basis of existing institutional frameworks.
- Although it claims that it doesn’t need EU membership, Ankara refuses to end this bid unilaterally. Addressing the Bloomberg Global Business forum in September, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan challenged the EU again to close its door to Turkey, if it can.
- “They want Turkey to go, but we will not leave the rink,” Erdogan said. The EU has disregarded this challenge, citing strategic considerations that make it necessary for Ankara’s membership bid to continue, despite the deterioration in Turkey’s democracy.
- French President Emmanuel Macron, who has emerged as Erdogan’s principal European interlocutor today, told the Greek Kathimerininewspaper in September that while Turkey may have strayed from the democratic path, he wants to “avoid a split because it’s a vital partner in many crises we all face, notably the immigration challenge and the terrorist threat.”
Turkey also has serious issues with Europe that fuel domestic animosity against the EU. These include the support it says the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) gets from within Europe, despite the fact that the EU has listed this group as a terrorist organization.
The EU’s refusal to classify the so-called Fethullah Gulen Terror Organization (FETO), a term Ankara uses to refer to Gulen followers, as a terrorist group is another sore point for Turkey. Ankara says this group was behind the failed coup against Erdogan in 2016.
The EU’s Counterterrorism Coordinator Gilles de Kerchove, who was in Ankara last week, told Reuters they were unlikely to change their position on FETO due to a lack of concrete evidence against the group.
Various EU countries, including Germany and France, are angry about EU citizens arrested in Turkey on what they say are trumped-up charges trying to link them to the PKK or FETO. They are accusing Ankara of holding these people as hostages.
None of this seems to augur well for the future of Turkish-EU relations. Yet there is an increased flurry of diplomatic activity between the sides. Using the institutional framework of Ankara’s continuing status as an EU candidate country, both sides are addressing issues of mutual interest, regardless of where Turkey’s membership bid stands.
Kerchove’s talks in Ankara last week highlighted terrorism as one area where the sides believe cooperation has to continue, despite existing differences and mutual resentments.
Marc Pierini, a former EU envoy to Turkey and currently with Carnegie Europe, argued in a recent article, “More than ever before, strong counterterrorism cooperation needs to be a central component of the overall relationship between the EU and Turkey.”
Turkey was satisfied after the European Parliament moved in November to ban entry to its premises by individuals or groups sympathetic to the PKK or its affiliates. Turkey also was pleased over Berlin’s decision to ban PKK banners during pro-Kurdish demonstrations in Germany.
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