Europe and Turkey are in stalemate

Europe and Turkey are in stalemate

The already troubled European-Turkish relations have become more complicated after the failed coup attempt in Turkey. On the one hand, the wave of arrests (including journalists) which swept across Turkey along with the closure of dozens of media outlets is posing serious worries for the EU. In addition, the debate on the reintroduction of the death penalty in Turkey, started by President Erdogan, is causing a categorical protest in Europe. Brussels has openly declared that the restoration of the death penalty in Turkey would mean the de facto termination of the country's accession to the EU. At the same time, the Turkish leadership admits that the decision on the restoration of the death penalty may be adopted by referendum.

However, the problem of refugees and the implementation of the agreement reached in this area continue to be a central theme in Turkish-EU relations. Recently, in an interview with a journalist for the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Michael Martens, the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu openly threatened to suspend the agreement on refugees if the Europeans do not lift their visa requirements for Ankara by October. This is perhaps the most painful point in Turkish-EU relations. Erdogan's European partners insist on mitigation of anti-terrorism laws in Turkey, fearing abuses in the suppression of civil society. The Turkish authorities have categorically refused to take this step even before the failed coup, and in the light of recent events the prospect of an easing on this issue by Ankara is even less likely.

Mevlut Cavusoglu

Another problematic point is the delay of funding. Ankara has received only a few million from the Europeans of the promised three billion euros. However, it should be noted that a few days ago the European Commission gave a positive signal that the formal procedures for the allocation of at least two billion euros to Turkey have already been completed. But it seems that Ankara gives the financial aspect a lower priority than the visa-free regime with the EU, which would become a major and very timely foreign policy success for President Erdogan.

Meanwhile, the importance of the Turkish-European pact on refugees to Europe can hardly be overestimated. According to statistics announced by the European Commission, an average of 89 people a day – mostly Syrian refugees –migrated to Greece via the Aegean Sea in July 2016. This number averaged 1740 people per day before the agreement with Turkey came into force. The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker acknowledges that at the moment the risk of failure of the agreement with Turkey is great. Answering a question from the Kurier newspaper's journalist about what will happen if the contract is terminated, the head of the European Commission gave a direct answer: "Then you can expect that again refugees will be standing at the gates of Europe." A German MP, CDU member Markus Ferber, believes that binding visa liberalization with the agreement on refugees is a "big trick." According to him, Turkey controls the valve and can adjust the flow of refugees to Europe by opening and closing it. At the moment, European politicians are overwhelmingly opposed to "special treatment" for Turkey on the visa liberalization issue. However, Turkey still plays a special role for Europe and its desire to get "special treatment" is quite natural and rational in terms of real politics, especially considering the situation in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo. If the city is retaken by the Syrian government army, then it's safe to assume that the flow of refugees from Syria will grow considerably in the near future. And, depending on the situation, Turkey will decide whether to open its "valve", jeopardizing the EU and its internal stability.

Another problem in Turkish-EU relations is the growing distrust of the Turkish political elite of the West as a whole, which creates an unfavorable background for the implementation of any agreements. After the failed coup attempt, this process reached its peak. The decision by the German authorities to ban a broadcast of Erdogan's speech during a recent demonstration in Cologne, and the unwillingness of the Americans to extradite the preacher Fatullah Gulen, accused of organizing a coup attempt, is fuelling anti-Western sentiments in Turkey. Information that Turkish servicemen positioned at the easternmost NATO air base in the Turkish city of Incirlik were involved in the coup attempt only cultivates the suspicions of Turks against the West.

Turkish Foreign Minister Cavusoglu said in an interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that his country is making its best efforts to achieve the extradition of Gülen: "Our Ministry of Justice is working at the maximum rate, but collecting all the documents and evidence takes time. Everything will be ready in the near future and then we will send all the evidentiary material. We expect that the US will extradite Gulen as soon as they receive the information." Cavusoglu recalled successful Turkish-American cooperation on extradition matters. According to him, now "it is especially important for our partners to quickly fulfill their obligations, since, unfortunately, the longer this process is delayed, the greater the growing anti-Americanism in Turkey becomes." "We do not want an allied nation to be perceived by the people as hostile, because it does not benefit either us, or our relations. But, alas, we are witnessing a major trend in this direction." The minister acknowledged that when he describes the US as allies, speaking on television, then he receives hundreds of letters from citizens who wonder how he can call this country a friend: "In fact, this is a very serious and sensitive topic."

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