By Arab News
By Yasar Yakis
The European Parliament this month published its yearly report on Turkiye and its accession process. As expected, very few positive remarks were made about it.
Oliver Varhelyi, the European commissioner in charge of EU enlargement, paid a visit to Turkiye at the beginning of this month and held talks with several authorities in Ankara. The general tone of his subsequent statement gave the impression that there had been a sea change in the EU’s attitude toward Turkiye. He said that, after the general elections of May this year, Turkiye was now at an important juncture and that he had heard encouraging messages from Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and also from the new government. He got the impression that Ankara wanted a new start in its relations with Europe. The European Council was quick to discuss the matter and it asked the European Commission to create the parameters for a positive agenda with Turkiye.
Varhelyi was trying to map out the areas in which a positive agenda could be developed. He pointed out that Turkiye is a member of the EU’s customs union, it is a very important market and investment country, it is one of the most powerful NATO members, it has a lot in common with the EU and — if you look at the geography — it is very clear that the EU and Turkiye are dependent on one another. He continued by saying that he believed there had been a new approach to EU enlargement since the outbreak of war in Ukraine. Enumerating the many positive factors in favor of Turkiye’s relations with the EU is a new phenomenon.
While this was Varhelyi’s attitude, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, in her annual state of the union speech on Sept. 13, mentioned Turkiye only in the context of a new agenda for the Mediterranean, adding that the EU would continue to work on different aspects of its relations with Ankara.
However, the EU’s yearly Turkiye report criticized the country’s human rights record, its fundamental rights and freedoms, democracy and freedom of expression. In fact, Turkiye’s conformity with the EU’s acquis communautaire has gone down to 7 percent. It will need gigantic efforts to bring this to an acceptable level.
The EU pointed out in its yearly report that Turkiye’s accession process cannot be resumed under the present circumstances. And it called for the EU to explore “a parallel and realistic framework” for its ties with Ankara.
When all these facts are put together, one gets the impression that both Turkiye’s and the EU’s minds are blurred regarding the accession process.
While a potentially suitable atmosphere was prevailing, Erdogan poured cold water on this relatively optimistic environment by saying that Turkiye might part ways with the EU, if necessary. He implied the country could end its membership bid.
However, cutting ties with the EU would not be an easy step. It would cause tectonic movement in both the Middle East and trans-Atlantic contexts.
It would be unfair to put all the blame on the EU. Ankara also has several shortcomings. As expected, Turkiye issued a harshly worded statement refuting almost every remark in the EU report.
There were, however, also several positive elements in the report. Turkiye’s endeavors in setting up the Black Sea grain deal was one. Its positive approach regarding irregular Syrian refugees and asylum seekers was another.
On the other hand, as expected, the EU did not like Turkiye’s improving economic and political ties with Russia.
Cyprus and Greece continued to use their one-sided view on the Cyprus issue as if it were the EU’s common attitude. There was a decision of principle adopted at the Lisbon summit of 2007 that says that, when an EU member state’s interests clash with those of a non-member, fellow EU members have to side with it. This decision binds EU countries even if the interests of that country are illogical. In other words, Turkiye cannot be right in a controversy that involves its interests colliding with those of any EU member.
Two paragraphs in the report summarize a lot of the points in the EU’s attitude toward Turkiye. In paragraph 21, it states that, as demonstrated by the growing gap between Turkiye and the EU, the European Commission is led to the conclusion that the Turkish government has no intention of closing this gap. A clear lack of willingness had been noticed in the last few years in Turkiye’s attitude in the fields of the rule of law, fundamental rights and freedoms, and the protection of all ethnic and confessional minorities. Turkiye did not show any interest in respecting the Copenhagen criteria or in harmonizing its policies with those of the EU.
Paragraph 38 used bolder language, saying that if Turkiye does not change its direction, “its EU accession process cannot be resumed.”
As a backdrop to these developments, France and Germany last week tabled a proposal to relaunch an old idea of Europe with four concentric circles. The first of these would be the “deep integration” countries, followed by a group of present and future European countries attached to the bloc’s political objectives, principles and values. The third group would be composed of associate members that would have to abide by the EU’s principles and values regarding democracy and the rule of law. The other European countries would remain outside the “red line” and would not be required to join in with integration. The fourth group would be composed of countries that would be called the European Political Community. Turkiye expects that it would be included either in the third circle with the UK or in the fourth circle.
This is where we are in terms of Turkish-EU relations today.
• Yasar Yakis is a former foreign minister of Turkiye and founding member of the ruling AK Party.