Turkey and Europe stuck with one another
The two parties do not see eye to eye on most issues. Europeans are deeply concerned about Turkey’s attitude to human rights after the July 2016 coup attempt and about its recent foray into Syria. After Afrin, they are now worried the Turkish army might widen its offensive to Manbij.
The Turks, for their part, view the West’s support for the Syrian Democratic Forces in general, and the Kurdish YPG militia in particular, as a threat (this week’s discussions between French President Emmanuel Macron and the SDF at the Elysee Palace did not go down well in Ankara). The Turkish government considers the renaissance of Kurdish nationalism resulting from the upheavals in Iraq and Syria potentially threatening to its territorial integrity. Therefore the NATO member finds itself in conflict with its Western European and American allies over Syria and how to engage with the Kurds.
Given all the dissonances, it came as something of a surprise when Erdogan said again last week that Turkey would indeed want to join the EU. Juncker found some appeasing words to keep Turkey on the membership track in the very distant future. However, it was clear to all sides that EU membership is not on the cards for Turkey until things change domestically.
The EU is a values-based organisation, which means that, for most of the EU governments, democracy and human rights are non-negotiable conditions of membership. Many EU countries also have sizeable Turkish minorities and they are afraid that Turkish-Kurdish conflicts will hit the streets in their cities. The integration of Turkish and Kurdish populations has, for instance, dominated German television talk shows of late.
Turkey, meanwhile, feels threatened from the inside by supporters of Fethullah Gulen, who they accuse of orchestrating the 2016 coup attempt, and rising Kurdish nationalism. The country finds itself in an inhospitable neighborhood that includes many hotspots such as Syria, Iraq, Iran, Ukraine and Russia. This necessitates navigating geopolitical challenges very carefully.
While the EU and Turkey are bound together both economically and geopolitically, their values seem to be drifting ever farther apart. They cannot change geography, which means they are stuck with one another.
While Turkey and the EU are at odds on many levels, they still need each other.
Europe feels besieged by streams of refugees from the Middle East and Africa, while Turkey is home to three million Syrian refugees, which it has housed at great expense and without much complaint. In March 2016, it reached a deal with the EU for sharing the cost of accommodating and integrating the refugees to the tune of €6 billion. Once the deal was reached, the borders to Europe were sealed and the constant stream of refugees via the Balkans route came to an abrupt end. About €3 billion have been disbursed so far, but to aid agencies such as the World Food Programme and not the Turkish government — much to the latter’s displeasure. The EU is about to disburse the second tranche.
Turkey is the easternmost flank of NATO, which is increasingly important to the West given Russia’s more assertive foreign policy stance and the turmoil in the Middle East. But Ankara’s geopolitical relevance does not stop there, as 5 percent of global crude oil production finds its markets after transiting from Russia, as does much of the grain exported from Ukraine, Russia and Central Asia.
As for Turkey: It needs Europe economically because 38 percent of its imports and 45 percent of its exports come from or go to Europe — not to mention the 3.5 million German tourists who visited last year.
While the EU and Turkey are bound together both economically and geopolitically, their values seem to be drifting ever farther apart. They cannot change geography, which means they are stuck with one another. What needs to happen is careful listening to each other’s concerns and existential fears: This will not make the relationship any easier, but both sides need to stop it from falling apart. There is simply too much at stake.
- Cornelia Meyer is a business consultant, macro-economist and energy expert. Twitter: @MeyerResources
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