Sunday, July 21, 2024

Time Is Running Out To Prevent a Permanent Rupture Between the EU and Türkiye

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There is now a genuine risk of a permanent rupture between the EU and Türkiye. It is not too late to prevent this outcome, but complacency may lead us there.

Ankara’s growing interest in platforms such as the BRICS and the Shangai Cooperation Organization is itself a manifestation of Türkiye’s frustration with the EU. Frustration goes both ways in this case. Ankara’s democratic backsliding and disengagement from the EU on foreign policy make it difficult to present a positive case for Türkiye in Brussels.

The country’s accession process is stalled, with no progress in customs union modernization or visa liberalization. The EU Council’s decision to cancel high-level meetings with Türkiye remains in effect, as do limitations on arms sales imposed by certain member states. Moreover, the conclusions of the Special European Council held in April 2024 conditioned the enhancement of EU-Türkiye cooperation on progress in the Cyprus settlement talks. Yet, the Turkish Cypriots have grown skeptical of the sincerity of their Greek counterparts in pursuing a negotiated settlement, particularly after the abrupt withdrawal of the latter from the Crans-Montana talks in 2017. And Türkiye has not been represented at a Gymnich Meeting of foreign ministers since 2020.

Meanwhile, the EU Ministry in Türkiye has been disbanded and replaced by the Directorate for EU Affairs within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Staff from other ministries involved in EU harmonization have been reassigned to other roles. Ankara persists in dismissing reports from the European Parliament and disregarding decisions from the European Court of Human Rights. 

Ties between European and Turkish elites are also weakening. Economic challenges in Türkiye, combined with difficulty in obtaining Schengen visa appointments, have made it hard for Turkish academics, journalists, and businesspersons to travel to Europe. Meanwhile, Türkiye has become a less appealing destination for their European counterparts.

A permanent rupture between the EU and Türkiye is unlikely in the near future, but decisions taken in Ankara, Brussels, and other European capitals in the short term could make the trajectory difficult to reverse. While many might welcome such an outcome, it is not in the best interests of either Europe or Türkiye. 

The EU-Türkiye relationship is not something that can be put in the deep freeze and taken out whenever it may be wanted; it is more like a fire that is about to go out, and which may be impossible to rekindle. It is not too late to prevent this outcome, but time is running out. 

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