Turkey and EU:  Are better relations possible?

Turkey and the European Union seem to be heading for a storm as the future of their relationship will be discussed next month, and analysts and diplomats recognize the discord as ties have endured many crises.  Erdogan’s olive branch to EU doesn’t contain any compromises on key topics of disagreement, such as Turkey’s claim to the continental shelves of Cyprus and Aegean Sea.  EU is faced with  a very tricky issue.  It is threatening sanctions on Turkey for issues which most of the Turks would side with the government.  That is Turks do believe Cyprus ought to have two republics and Greek islands don’t deserve continental shelves.  EU needs to get tough on Erdogan’s human rights violations and let Turkey, Cyprus and Greece sort out regional problems.


European leaders will discuss the future of EU-Turkey relationship at their summit in December, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said last Thursday, according to Xinhua Net.


“We agreed earlier to discuss the issue of Turkey at our next summit on Dec. 10,” Merkel said at a press conference following a video conference of EU leaders.


Her remarks followed those of the bloc’s Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, who said that the relationship between Brussels and Ankara is approaching a “watershed moment” because of differences on several issues.


“Turkey must understand its behavior is widening its separation with the EU,” Borrell also warned while the bloc has threatened to impose economic sanctions on Ankara at the leaders’ summit.


Greece and Cyprus are pushing for sanctions against Turkey over maritime disputes in the Mediterranean, but the majority of EU members have been reluctant so far to take such action.


Analysts said there is still room for improvement until the summit, urging both parties to try to reach a sustainable dialogue to salvage a long-lasting relationship.


“Nobody believes sanctions will work in this context, but it is hard to rule out the possibility for the same,” foreign policy analyst Serkan Demirtas told Xinhua.


He argued that this cause of action would only help erode what is left of what was once a strong pro-European sentiment among the Turkish population, but now in tatters, according to surveys.


Demirtas also remarked that Turkey should evaluate its entire foreign policy in a bid to mitigate risks and protect its economy for the coming period, including the nature of its ties with the European bloc.


On Saturday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan used a conciliatory tone calling on the EU for dialogue and to avoid discrimination.


“We see ourselves in Europe, not anywhere else, and we want to build our future with Europe,” Erdogan said in a video conference. “We want to be in stronger cooperation with our friends and allies.”


In an effort to soothe relations, the Turkish leader has sent his chief adviser to Brussels on Friday. Upon his return, Ibrahim Kalin stated Saturday on his Twitter account that the relationship is a “strategic” one.



Yet,  Ankara is no mood to step back on Cyprus or the sharing of the Aegean Sea. Erdogan can’t.  These foreign policy stances are widely adopted  by the nation.  Turkey, a nation of 80 million people will not allow Greeks and Greek Cypriotes to claim Cyprus or the Aegean Sea as their own.


Turkey’s hydrocarbon exploration activities remain at the center of the tensions and hours after Erdogan’s address, Ankara has extended its eastern Mediterranean mission until Nov. 29, despite protests from Athens.


Turkey is officially a candidate for EU membership. However, it remains at odds with the bloc over migration, Cyprus, and drilling in the Mediterranean.


A European source in Ankara told Xinhua that there is a “disappointment” in the union about Erdogan’s decision to pursue explorations.


“We can’t deny that there is a serious problem, involving some of our members and that the eventuality of sanctions is really there, but so is also a ground for discussion and common sense,” the source said under the condition of anonymity.


EU’s current rotating president Germany, which has led diplomatic talks with Ankara, is keen to give a dialogue a chance because of the close EU-Turkey trade ties.


The Customs Union signed in 1995 has favored Turkey’s economic growth. The EU is also Turkey’s largest import and export partner, and therefore, relations are important, insist observers.


Bahadir Kaleagasi, president of the Paris Bosphorus Institute, thinks that both Turkey and the EU have homework to do to establish ties based on mutual interests. He has a constructive proposal:


In this context, Kaleagasi urged the EU during a television program to “modernize an outdated customs union,” a demand that Turkey is making for several years.


Ankara, on the other hand, he indicated, should make new efforts towards strengthening the rule of law and democracy required by the EU to re-energize currently stalled accession talks.


Turkish president pledged last week an economic reform along with fresh legal amendments to “raise the bar of democracy and freedoms” in Turkey, a NATO member knocking on the European bloc’s door for decades.


It remains to be seen how far Erdogan’s pledges will go and whether it will evolve into a new paradigm that would consecrate a rapprochement between Ankara and Brussels.


Brussels should monitor promises of judicial reform and respect for rule of law, and threaten sanctions if these promises are not kept.  It is already doing so  Belarus, and even two member nations Poland and Hungary.  Such an approach would command support from a growing majority in the country yearning for freedom of expression, judicial independence and an end to the endless crackdowns on any entity AKP and MHP consider “enemies”.


Comments by Atilla Yesilada


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Published By: Atilla Yeşilada

GlobalSource Partners’ Turkey Country Analyst Atilla Yesilada is the country’s leading political analyst and commentator. He is known throughout the finance and political science world for his thorough and outspoken coverage of Turkey’s political and financial developments. In addition to his extensive writing schedule, he is often called upon to provide his political expertise on major radio and television channels. Based in Istanbul, Atilla is co-founder of the information platform Istanbul Analytics and is one of GlobalSource’s local partners in Turkey. In addition to his consulting work and speaking engagements throughout the US, Europe and the Middle East, he writes regular columns for Turkey’s leading financial websites VATAN and www.paraanaliz.com and has contributed to the financial daily Referans and the liberal daily Radikal.