The comfortable illusion of Turkey’s candidacy for the EU

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A man wearing a face mask walks past the New Mosque in Istanbul’s Eminonu Square on Thursday. The Ankara regime has become a security issue for Europe and the West that must be dealt with appropriately, says the author. [EPA]

Today, the Turkish leaders seize every opportunity to ignore the fundamentals of the European Union to claim the singularity, if not the superiority of Turkey. The EU paradigm has become a handicap in the face of an increasingly authoritarian if not totalitarian regime in which the arbitrariness of one-man rule has become the rule.

The prospect of EU membership has completely disappeared from Turkey’s political agenda since early 2021. The centuries-old anti-Westernism of Turkish politics is now riding a wave and denigration of the West has become the subject. favorite in Turkish political life. Ankara, through its actions and statements, rejects EU membership even when it pretends to attract “hot money” lenders or to charm Turkish conciliators in Europe. As for the opposition, EU membership does not mean more than the regime.

Bilateral relations with politicians and public opinion in EU member states are at an all-time low, where any non-complacent statement or action is met with accusations of “Nazis” and “fascists”. Some governments have introduced the rebuttal of Turkey’s membership into their government action strategy, such as Austria and Germany. Paris directly announced a similar decision in Ankara. Today, any European decision-maker knows that, in Brussels terminology, Turkey does not respect the Copenhagen criteria, a mandatory reference for any candidate country.

Such a state of affairs has already been reflected in the Council’s conclusions on June 26, 2018, two days after the presidential election which completed the change of regime. “The Council notes that Turkey is moving further and further away from the European Union. Turkey’s accession negotiations are therefore effectively at a standstill and no further chapter can be considered for the opening or closing and no further work towards the modernization of the EU-Turkey customs union is foreseen. .

The declaration is far from a formal end to the accession negotiations as it seemed difficult to achieve unanimity, with some member states fearful of publicly opposing Turkey for various reasons. However, the exclusion of Turkey is indirectly mentioned in several official documents. Finally, there is no longer any political dialogue on issues of common interest, with the exception of the settlement agreement on refugees.

With the accession negotiations now ruled out by a tacit agreement between the parties, there remain two issues on which Ankara still seems to be waiting: the revision of the Customs Union and the Schengen visa exemption for its citizens.

In force since January 1, 1996, the Customs Union has long needed to be revised. The advantages that Turkey gained then have eroded over the years. Customs union was always a step before full membership; running out of membership, it became useless. Either way, with the deep freeze in formal relations, it becomes unnecessary to revise.

However, some European decision-makers still dream of making the revision of the Customs Union conditional on good economic and political governance, as suggested by the so-called “positive agenda”. Sadly, they tend to forget how anti-European the regime’s codes are, making any rule-based and value-based interaction unthinkable and impractical.

The EU cannot easily conclude transactional agreements concerning its interests and security with a Turkey which does not feel bound by any obligation of membership or partnership. Henceforth, it is inappropriate to bet on its commitments from the EU (and possibly from NATO) to, for example, ease tensions with neighbors, because the failure of the application for EU membership cancels the achievements of the last 20 years in terms of good neighborliness. relations with the Member States, in particular Greece. The belligerent rhetoric and actions of recent years against a number of EU countries, politicians and citizens are strong signals of this centrifugal push.

All things considered, Ankara’s modus operandi contradicts the norms, standards, values ​​and principles of the EU, which are simply obstacles to the “smooth” functioning of the regime. Likewise, this is why the Ankara regime can never be reformed.

Turkish unilateral actions are not limited to political or diplomatic relations. Today, two gigantic infrastructure projects which have a direct impact on EU countries and which require a proper environmental impact assessment are moving forward without it. This is the Akkuyu nuclear power plant, built, unsurprisingly, by the Russian Rosatom, on the other side of the water from Cyprus and located in a seismic zone. The other is the so-called “Istanbul Canal”, an artificial waterway beside the Bosphorus, considered by the scientific community to be potentially fatal for the entire Black Sea basin, its riparian countries, including the rivers that feed it, the Sea of ​​Marmara and beyond.

Appeasing the Ankara regime by considering that it is still a member of the European and Atlantic communities is a pipe dream. The more the West appeases Turkey, the more Recep Tayyip Erdogan will use and abuse Western anxieties, and the longer the life cycle of his regime will be.

The Ankara regime has become a security issue for Europe and the West that must be dealt with appropriately.


Cengiz Aktar is Professor of Political Science at the Faculty of Turkish Studies and Modern Asian Studies at the National and Capodistrian University of Athens. His latest book is “Le malaise turc” (Empreinte temps, 2020) / “To tourkiko achthos” (Epimetro, 2021).



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