EU is stuck in middle of Turkey’s disputes with France and Greece
Against a backdrop of rising tensions between Turkey and some EU member states, the bloc’s policy chief, Josep Borrell, paid a two-day visit to Ankara this week. A number of issues were on his agenda for discussion, including the war in Libya, the refugee crisis, friction in the Eastern Mediterranean, and the coronavirus pandemic.
Turkey’s relationships with France and Greece have deteriorated, and Borrell was tasked not only with addressing grievances, but also easing tensions.
His visit came a week before special sessions of the European Parliament and the EU Foreign Affairs Council are due to take place after calls from French officials for new sanctions on Ankara in response to the latter’s actions in the Eastern Mediterranean. Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu used Borrell’s visit as an opportunity to warn the EU that Ankara will retaliate if sanctions are imposed.
“We observe that Turkey will be on the agenda of the EU in the coming days,” he said during a joint press conference with Borrell on July 6 in Ankara. “Taking decisions against Turkey will not resolve the existing problems; on the contrary, it will deepen them.
“If the EU takes additional measures against Turkey, we will have to respond. If you further sanction Turkey, we also have steps to take in the field, in the Eastern Mediterranean.”
Borrell’s visit also included a meeting with Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar.
The EU was dragged into the escalating dispute between Paris and Ankara, over the Eastern Mediterranean and Libya, after the former called on the 27-member bloc to take a stand against Turkey. France and Greek Cyprus have also played significant roles in blocking Turkey’s bid to join the EU by putting political roadblocks in the way.
Borrell acknowledged that ties between the EU and Turkey are far from ideal, and immediate and serious problems must be resolved.
“We have to change the dynamic of our relationship. We have to follow a more positive track so that we can avoid additional problems,” he said.
The first decade of the 2000s was a momentous time in the relationship between Turkey and Europe, as Ankara began implementing EU-related reforms. The Turkish authorities advocated that accession would not be a burden on the bloc but benefit it, as they would help share the burden of the difficulties faced by the union.
Unfortunately, this honeymoon period did not last. Frustrated by the barriers to admission imposed by some members and a lack of progress in negotiations, Ankara appeared to grow increasingly eurosceptical despite its generally pro-EU stance. This was evident not only at the political level but also on a societal level, as support among the Turkish people for membership of the EU began to decline.
Relations between Turkey and EU member states are affected by bilateral, regional and global issues. Since the collapse of EU membership talks, Turkey has redefined its bilateral relations mainly by leveraging border security and migration management.
However, Ankara adopts a diverse approach to its bilateral ties with EU members. For instance, it treads a fine line in its relationship with Italy: The Italian defense minister recently visited Turkey, officials in Rome have expressed support for Turkish intervention in Libya, and the top Italian diplomat recently visited Ankara for talks.
Regionally, the Eastern Mediterranean, Libya and Syria are key issues affecting the security and stability of the EU, and there is a need for dialogue with Ankara to resolve them, a point that was raised by Borrell. While some EU members view Turkey as a threat, others believe it offers significant economic and security benefits.
There is a long history of relations between Turkey and the EU, and it is hard to predict how they might evolve in the future.
On a global level, the mutual frustration with each other felt by Turkey and the West, including the EU and the US, had significantly influenced Ankara’s pivot toward Russia.
The cooling of relations between Turkey and the EU is also related to developments within the bloc itself. The refugee crisis, caused by regional developments, led the EU to abandon values it had promoted for decades. This created fertile ground for the growth of populist, right-wing parties that contradict liberal, democratic institutions and processes — the very foundation upon which the main pillars of European values, such as human rights, democracy, tolerance, inclusiveness and multiculturalism, are premised. Therefore, expansion is no longer seen as the standard solution to the problems affecting the continent, and European values are being openly flouted in several member countries.
There is a long history of relations between Turkey and the EU, and it is hard to predict how they might evolve in the future. Turkey is located in an area where a single incident can start a domino effect that changes the landscape of the entire region; the Arab uprisings, for example, continue to affect regional balances.
How will the war in Syria unfold? Will the instability in Libya be rectified any time soon? How long will tensions persist in the Eastern Mediterranean? How will the role of global powers Russia, China and the US evolve in the coming years. These are all questions to which there are no clear answers at this time.
- Sinem Cengiz is a Turkish political analyst who specializes in Turkey’s relations with the Middle East. Twitter: @SinemCngz