Politics: Why the EU “loves” Erdogan: “A democratic Turkey will be the most important issue for Europe”

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President of Turkey Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Photo: Shutterstock

There are many reasons why Western leaders dislike Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. During his 20 years in charge of his country, the Turkish president arrested journalists and opposition figures, violently cracked down on dissidents and mismanaged the economy, but with Erdogan in power, the EU does not have to face the issue of joining Turkey. Constituent community, according to an analysis Politics.

On the foreign policy front, this figure aligned with Russia, launched an incursion into Syria and used his NATO veto to block Sweden’s accession at a crucial time for the alliance.

But if Erdogan loses to his rival Kemal Kilicdaroglu when Turks go to the polls on May 14, EU leaders, especially Erdogan, have a reason to miss it. Erdogan’s stay in power, particularly as he has taken an increasingly authoritarian turn in recent years, has allowed the EU to sidestep the question of whether Turkey should join the EU.

For many European politicians, Erdogan has been useful, allowing the EU to legally rule out any serious talks with Ankara. His behavior gave the EU political cover to avoid this problem. Regime change, however, could change this dynamic.

“What we have seen in recent years is that Turkey and the EU are going in the opposite direction. Under Erdogan, Turkey moved away from European values. The accession process has completely stalled, and as a result the idea of ​​Turkey becoming a member. The mission of the EU is no longer credible,” said Selim Gunerolf, Turkey’s former ambassador to the EU.

The history of relations between the EU and Turkey spans more than 60 years

The history of relations between the EU and Turkey spans more than 60 years. In 1959, Turkey applied for association with the European Economic Community, the predecessor of the European Union, which led to the signing of the Ankara Agreement in 1963.

A series of coups and economic and political instability put Turkey’s EU integration on hold, putting the accession process back on track in the 1980s. In 1987, Turkey applied to join the EEC. A decade later, it was granted candidate status and the country began taking significant steps to meet the membership criteria set by the European Union.

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During this period, Erdogan came to power. The reformist leader of the new Justice and Development Party (AKP), who spoke of pluralism, democracy and reconciliation, opened peace talks with the Kurdish PKK group.

He got down to business, introducing reforms that brought Turkey closer to EU benchmarks. Although applauded by the European Commission at the time, these changes actually set the stage for Erdogan to exert more control over the military later on.

After a brief honeymoon, relations with Brussels soured. Erdogan is increasingly frustrated with the pace of EU integration. Many member states have made it clear that they do not want Turkey to join the EU. This dichotomy began an increasingly difficult relationship.

Many issues are responsible for the breakdown of relationships, with both parties pointing fingers.

The EU’s decision to recognize Cyprus in 2004 has continued to stick. Turkey has occupied the northern part of the island since 1974 – an issue Nicosia wants to resolve before accepting closer ties between the EU and Ankara.

And then there was the Sarkozy effect. In 2011, the French president made a brief five-hour visit to the Turkish capital, and his message was clear: France does not want Turkey’s EU membership. The visit marked a turning point for Erdogan, several officials told POLITICO.

On the other side of the relationship, it was Erdogan’s autocracy that “killed” the country’s chances of entry.

The brutal crackdown on Gezi Park protests in 2013 foreshadowed an even more brutal response to a failed coup attempt in 2016. Erdogan jailed tens of thousands of people and then secured power in a constitutional referendum in 2017, eliminating the country’s chances of joining the European Union. .

In particular, it violated the Copenhagen criteria, conditions that any country wishing to join the European Union must meet, including the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities.

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By 2018, EU leaders had had enough. A European Council report that year put it bluntly: Turkey’s accession negotiations had “reached an impasse”.

The big question in EU-Turkey relations is whether this will change after Turks go to the polls on Sunday.

The change of government will bring a new perspective to the partnership between Turkey and the West

The change of government will bring a new perspective to the partnership between Turkey and the West. Kilicdaroglu has said he wants to restart the EU accession process and commit Turkey to complying with rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, another departure from Erdogan.

But the prospect of new leadership in Turkey will not eliminate many of the root causes of differences.

“Domestic challenges will remain the same no matter who is in power. There is a deep economic crisis. The current government is offering all kinds of populist measures to alleviate the current crisis ahead of the elections,” said senior researcher Kalia Lindenstrass. National Security Research Institute.

Washington has made little secret of its desire to change the government in Turkey, a key NATO member. In 2019, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden said the US should support Turkish opposition leaders to “confront and defeat Erdogan”.

“He must pay for his dictatorship,” the future US president said in an interview that angered the Turkish government.

Lindenstrass predicted that there would be an “ideal situation” between Brussels and Ankara if Klikdaroglu came to power. The six-party opposition bloc has signaled it wants to restore ties with the EU and work to reverse some of Erdogan’s moves that violate the Copenhagen criteria, such as returning to a parliamentary system instead of a presidential system.

But the underlying issues will make some European countries rush to open Turkey’s door. Many countries are reluctant to allow a majority Muslim country like Turkey to join, even if some say so openly.

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“It is unlikely that EU member states will consider Turkey’s accession to the EU,” said a senior European diplomat in Brussels.

Lindenstrass said he could envision progress on issues such as visa liberalization or renewal of the EU-Turkey customs union, which has existed since 1995, but that was about it.

“I join the skeptics in believing that Turkey’s EU membership problems existed before Erdogan’s autocratic turn,” he said.

Modernizing the Association Agreement between the EU and Turkey is one way to revitalize relations

Ilke Doigur, a political expert at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, said the modernization of the association agreement between the two sides is a way to revitalize relations.

“Instead, EU policymakers should adopt a more appropriate institutional framework,” he said. He suggested that both sides could benefit from an association agreement similar to the one the EU has with other countries that have recently begun the accession process.

The renewed agreement covers issues such as climate action, migration and trade and could improve relations with Brussels, easing the way when it comes to the member’s most difficult issue.

Others were more skeptical and suggested that not everyone in Europe needed to celebrate Erdogan’s defeat.

“For some in the EU, it would be better to have an authoritarian leader and a more transactional relationship with Turkey than to deal seriously with the accession issue. A democratic Turkey would be the most important issue for Europe.” Calib Daly, Turkish political expert.

Author: Bianca Cyrilla

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