Giuseppe Trezza – Adviser for International Relations of the Italian Senate
In spite of the several problematic issues between EU and Turkey, both sides decided not to give up their positive relations. That was the pivotal aim of the EU and Turkey summit which has been held in Varna last March 25th. As Donald Tusk stated:“Our meeting today demonstrated that while our relationship is going through difficult times, in areas where we do cooperate, we cooperate well. We reconfirm our readiness to keep up the dialogue and consultations and to work together to overcome current difficulties with a view to unleashing the potential of our partnership.”
But besides this consonant declaration of common purposes the relation between Turkey and the Europe is nowadays in the deepest crisis than ever since 1963. The crisis should also be an instrument to better deal with the political problems and to foster the consciousness that EU-Turkey relations cannot end now with the word “NO”. First of all, because of the geographical proximity which is just a mirror of the geopolitical interests and troubles that interconnects these regions of Eurasia, in the perspective of a common security strategy. The migration crisis has simply shown this interdependency in a dramatic way: if there are wars, there are refugees who escape to Turkey and then to European countries. For that reason both sides are stressing the need of this agreement, even if public opinion, in Europe as well as in Turkey, is strongly protesting against it, without suggesting an alternative solution.
For actually, there is not any other solution than trying to regulate the flows of migrants and refugees through such kind of bilateral or multilateral agreements. This is the reason why both sides are accusing each other: to use the agreement as an instrument of political blackmail. The truth is that both Turkey and European countries are blackmailed by their internal oppositions to develop good relations and share any kind of agreement. Whereas in Europe this opposition to maintain good relations and integrate Turkey in the EU comes from a particular political area, in Turkey it is part of the state itself.
In the last two years Erdogan’s policy towards Europe and the Western world has been very aggressive and provocative, especially with countries, like Germany, Austria or the Netherlands, which host a large community of Turkish citizens. The Turkish President tried to move his faithful AKP-supporters in Europe against the national governments and the European Institutions, which he accuses to have betrayed Turkey because of the so long waiting to join the EU and the conditions of “double standards”, in comparison with every other country which has eventually joined the Union.
Europe is now at the end of a tour de force of electoral dates which lasted more than one year, starting with the Dutch election and following with the French, German, Austrian and Italian ones (i.e. four among the historical promoters of the European Union). In all these electoral competitions the sovranist parties strongly campaigned against Turkey, EU and Islam. Their ideological proximity to Putin’s Russian global policies has reached an alarming tension with the worsening of the Syrian crisis, which actually is showing the strategical weakness of Russia in the Middle East theatre. Those parties challenged
the traditional Euro-Atlantic identity of Europe. But at the moment they are in a stake, because of the missing of a strong Russian counter power and the rising of a new American perspective contrasting Russian influence in the Middle East and the Mediterranean.
The shift of power in Syria affected as well Turkey, which after the brief and weak understanding in Astana with Russia and Iran, perhaps realized that it can have better conditions and shared perspectives with the traditional Western allies. Besides of that, it is to consider that Turkey is claiming in northern Syria individual interests which are problematic either for the Western and for the Russian-Iranian coalition. Anyway in the international and multilateral perspective, even the most critical opponent of a Turkish-European (and American) common strategy is aware than any other solution is worse than cooperation.
Although the EU is still condemning the worsening of the human rights stand in Turkey and the disrpoportionality of the measures taken after the coup, reiterated its full support for the country’s democratic institutions. The main and essential request is the immediate upheaval of the emergency state. But Erdogan is not willing to accept any limitation to his growing authoritarism, as this would certainly mean the end of his staying in power in Turkey. At the same time president Tusk expressed concerns about Turkey’s recent actions in the Eastern Mediterranean and Aegean Sea, which EU leaders described as “illegal” at their recent EU summit in Brussels. Turkey is claiming a certain number of Aegean islets, belonging actually to Greece (i.e. European Union) and located just opposite of its costal region, in order to participate in the distribution of the new energy sources beneath that part of the Mediterranean. Even in these last two issues, democratic institutions and energy matters, dialogue and cooperation would be the best tools for understanding instead of provocation, which is just used to enforce the Turkish nationalism and the fear of a Turkish intervention in the Aegean.
On the other hand, what Turkey expects from the EU are the customs union agreement, visa liberalisation, and acceleration of financial assistance to Syria, as well concrete steps with regards to combating what Ankara calls “terrorism”. More than 20.000 Turkish refugees are now hosted as asylum seekers in European countries, among them over 2.000 in Greece and almost 10.000 in Germany. All those persons are considered by Ankara terrorists and enemies of the State. This problem of the Turkish opponents will have no solution until Erdogan bewares his power; it means that Europe will be even more confronted with allegations of hostility by the AKP regime.
Those are the reasons why in every occasion Turkish-European diplomacy is ending with a nothing done, but even without lifting the perspective on the common interests, which are indeed stressed again by both partners. This is a way to play for time with the problems in the agenda when no one, neither Turkey nor the European leaders, is strong enough to find a rational solution. The main risk of this wasting time attitude is that dramatic events (such as a worsening of the violence in Syria or an accident in the Aegean Sea) will change the situation in a real clash and military confrontation, instead of a definitive opening for upcoming and not unrealistic negotiations to join the Union.