MESOP : THE TURKEY/EU STORY – A NEVER ENDING ROAD – Turkey’s long road to EU membership just got longer (THE VOTE FOR LEAVE CAMPAIGN)
President Erdoğan is now more concerned about seizing extra powers to deal with internal opposition than in cosying up to Brussels
Jennifer Rankin in Brussels – THE GUARDIAN – 20 July 2016 06.00 BST Last modified on Wednesday 20 July 2016 23.45 BST – Tanks on the street, parliament under attack and fighter jets buzzing over the Bosphorus: Turkey’s failed military coup, which led to the deaths of at least 232 people, has underlined the fragility of democracy in a country that thought it had left military adventurism in the past.But the chaotic events also underscore how far away Turkey remains from joining the European Union, an outcome held out as an imminent prospect by the Vote Leave campaign, led by Boris Johnson – now British foreign secretary – only weeks ago.
Instead, the wide-ranging crackdown led by the president, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has increased the distance between Turkey and the EU. EU-Turkey relations have not been more difficult since the country became a candidate for EU membership in 2005. After a decade of slow-moving, stop-start talks, the two sides may be approaching a fork in the road.
Turkey dropped the death penalty in 2004 as part of decades-old efforts to join the EU but Erdoğan has said he is ready to reinstate it “if the people demand it”. However, EU politicians, led by foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini, have been clear Turkey’s EU membership hopes would be finished if capital punishment returns to the Turkish statute book.
Marc Pierini, a former EU ambassador to Turkey, thinks relations are now at a turning point. “Everything the EU has to say or wants to say because of its rules – whether it is freedom of expression, the death penalty or in the technical sphere of public procurement or competition policy – in all these fields the EU used to be a norm.” But now, he says, the EU “has become an impediment to the march of an executive presidency”.
He notes that the return of the death penalty is supported by pro-government crowds on the street, while Erdoğan has pointed out that the death penalty is legal in the United States. “The counterweight that the EU can be counts for almost nothing,” Pierini says.
Meanwhile, the European commissioner responsible for enlargement, Johannes Hahn, infuriated the Turkish government when he said lists of arrested judges seemed to have been prepared. In the 48 hours after the coup Turkish authorities arrested 6,000 people; by Tuesday, some 35,000 soldiers, police officers, judges and civil servants had been detained or suspended. Speaking to the European parliament, Hahn did not row back on his view: “To come up with a list like that within a few hours is something that most administrations are not able to do.”
“We have seen that from a coup you can get a counter-coup,” Elmar Brok, the chair of the European parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said in a specially convened session on Tuesday. MEPs lined up to express concerns about the “Putinisation” of Turkey, expressing fears the authoritarian turn makes the Muslim state more similar to Vladimir Putin’s Russia, than any EU country.
These fears took on added resonance when it emerged that Putin may meet his Turkish counterpart in August, as part of a rapprochement between the two countries. “I hope that it is not going to be a festival of autocrats,” Brok said.
But tensions in EU-Turkish relations are nothing new. In April MEPs lambasted Ankara’s backsliding on respect for democracy and the rule of law. For his part, Erdoğan angrily dismissed calls from the EU to rewrite Turkey’s domestic counter-terrorism legislation: “We’ll go our way, you go yours.”
“On many fronts we were already heading to a more transactional relationship with Turkey,” says Ian Lesser, senior director of foreign policy at the German Marshall Fund in Brussels.
The outlook for the EU-Turkey refugee deal is unchanged in the short term. “In the near term the factors that make or break that deal still operate. In the long term it becomes even more uncertain.”
Even before the attempted military takeover, parts of the EU-Turkey deal were already in doubt.
From the EU side the deal is working well. The number of refugees making the perilous journey across the eastern Mediterranean has dropped sharply (the western Mediterranean is a different story).
From the Turkish side the balance sheet may be less satisfactory. The EU has opened talks on another membership chapter, but the more prized offer of visa-free travel through the Schengen area has stalled. Günther Oettinger, Germany’s European commissioner, who has a habit of speaking off the cuff, predicted visa-free travel wouldn’t happen in 2016, far past the summer deadline. The European parliament had already said it will block the law if Turkey doesn’t meet the EU conditions for visa-free travel – the changes to Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws that Erdoğan opposes.
But the EU’s public statements on Turkey have skirted around what happens to the migration deal if Turkey’s EU membership path disintegrates. A European commission spokesman declined to “fill in such conclusions when [foreign] ministers themselves fail to do so”.
Pierini thinks the core part of the deal – EU funds for refugees in Turkey – will remain intact, even if membership talks stall. Turkish membership is not a priority for Erdoğan, because “it goes against the fundamental political interests of the Turkish government”, while he adds both sides have bigger priorities than visa liberalisation.
Instead he thinks the prospect of more Syrian refugees fleeing into Turkey, as a result of Bashar al-Assad’s forces closing in on Aleppo, will encourage both sides to maintain the bargain. The EU’s promised €3bn for refugees in Turkey will help the deal to stick. Just as the EU and Turkey will continue to work together on counter-terrorism, the migration pact may survive: “For convenient reasons on both sides you keep it alive”.
But the EU will have to give up the fiction that Turkey, under its current leadership, is still on the long road to joining the EU. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/jul/20/turkeys-long-road-to-eu-membership-just-got-longer