Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan returned from a crucial visit to Brussels last week, spreading a wind of hope on tensions between Turkey and Europe, but caution and skepticism prevail on the future of the contentious ties.
Both parties agreed to disagree on many issues and the talks that President Erdogan held with the heads of European Union institutions produced no new agreements even though they have established a “good atmosphere,” according to experts.
Tensions between Turkey and the EU run high over rights and security issues; but the bloc depends on the help of NATO ally Ankara on migration and the conflict in Syria.
After meeting European Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels, Erdogan was quoted as saying that he had been presented with a new 12-month timetable for renewing ties.
But senior officials voiced caution and some skepticism, saying no formal deadlines were set. The EU has a list of mid- and-high-level meetings it hopes to hold with Turkey this year, they said, but any improvement in bilateral ties would depend on Erdogan’s resolving at least some of many points of contention.
They included the EU’s worry that Turkey’s anti-terror laws are too broad and used to persecute Erdogan critics, as demonstrated in Ankara’s sweeping security crackdown following a coup attempt last year.
Other concerns relate to the treatment of the Kurds, the media and academics, as well as Erdogan moving to assume even more powers following the April referendum.
The pre-referendum campaign that granted Turkey’s dominant leader sweeping powers produced new spats with EU members Germany and the Netherlands, whose authorities Erdogan likened to Nazis when they had prevented Turkish politicians from campaigning in their countries.
“The talks were held in a constructive mood and both parties agreed to move on. This in self is a good thing,” said to Xinhua a Turkish diplomatic source without giving details on the timetable mentioned by Erdogan which puzzled some experts.
“This is called realpolitik, let us not rejoice ourselves with haste. The full membership issue (For Turkey) is not on the table any more,” commented senior EU expert Cengiz Aktar.
“Both parties estimated that they have no other option to work with each other, that’s all,” reacted Aktar, professor of political science and senior scholar at Istanbul policy center, adding that strategically speaking, Europe and the West in general are adamant about keeping Turkey in NATO and out of the Russian sphere of influence.
Turkey complains about slow progress in its stalled EU accession talks, discussions on visa-free travel for Turks to the EU and disbursement of EU funds to millions of Syrian refugees living in Turkey.
The Turkish government’s spokesman Numan Kurtulmus said on Monday that Turkey “wants to leave tensions with the EU behind” but the focus of renewed dialogue with the bloc should be on the axis of opening new accession chapters, blocked for many months because of the opposition of some member countries such as Austria.
Ankara has so far met most of the requirements for visa liberalization, but the EU’s demand for change of it’s anti terrorism law led to a deadlock of negotiations amid Turkey’s continued security operations against Kurdish rebels, the Islamic State (IS) and the Gulen network, accused of organizing the failed coup.
The bloc says Erdogan must first address concerns over human rights and rule of law, and should work with the Council of Europe, a European rights watchdog of which Turkey is a member.
The EU has not made any official statement regarding a specific timetable, nor did Turkish authorities made any comments on this road map, but Bahadir Kaleagasi, president of the Bosphorus Institute, thinks that parties will involve in constructive negotiations to address some important issues in the Customs Union binding them and will make this agreement more compatible of both parties’ wishes.
“A page which is not very new and also not very white has been opened in Brussels. But the most important is that the perspective of a full membership for Turkey has been maintained,” he indicated.
Kaleagasi pointed out the difficulties arising in the shrinking EU with namely Brexit, arguing that the bloc is proposing some kind of loose integration which is not forcibly a full membership but rather a close partnership for countries interested such as Norway or the Balkan States.
“Turkey is inevitably a gateway for trade and investment towards Asia, and the EU is very aware of this situation that she doesn’t want to lose it,” added Kaleagasi.
According to the new road map, EU and Turkey will ensure that they fulfill the obligations in the 2016 migrant deal that Erdogan threatened several times to break in the run-up to the referendum.
The Turkish president has also suggested that Turkey could hold a referendum on continuing EU accession talks, and possibly another on reinstating the death penalty which would be the end of Ankara’s long-time bid to join the bloc.
For the moment this burning issue seems to be off the table.
European commission chief spokesperson Margaritis Schinas called on Monday for continued cooperation between Turkey and the EU, speaking of a “constructive mood.”
“A new area has started,” Schinas said. Enditem