Beyond the Theatrics: Turkey-EU Ties

(President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan at the European Council, Brussels, October 5, 2015 © 2015 Reuters)

BY MINOAS VITALIS, Europe Editor

President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, a dictator in all but name, still believes his country has a chance of joining the European Union. It was only a month ago when on his way to a meeting with EU leaders in Bulgaria, he said that joining the bloc remains a “strategic goal”. Such comments are inconsistent with the country’s actions in recent years and are only aimed at offering Turkey’s elite hope that despite the recent turmoil and the slide into authoritarianism, the country still remains attached to the West.

Turkey in its current situation will never become a member of the European Union. Only this week, a Turkish court sentenced to long prison terms 12 journalists at Cumhuriyet, one of the country’s last independent newspapers. Analysts say this is in order to frighten those who still dare to criticize the government in the run-up to the snap general election on 24 June 2018.

A few days ago, the European Commission published an annual report about Turkey and the report provides an accurate description of the current situation in the country. According to the report, since the coup, Erdoğan has arrested 150, 000 people, nine opposition MPs, stripped ten others of their seats, dismissed 110, 000 civil servants, jailed 150 journalists and finally jailed social media users for “insulting” his name. During his regime, he has also used disproportionate force against Kurdish separatists, shut down more than 100, 000 websites and encouraged the harassment of LGBTQ+ individuals.

Only recently on the 17th April, two Turkish jets harassed a Greek helicopter carrying Greek PM Tsipras over the Aegean and Turkish authorities have held two Greek soldiers, since March, without a trial. This is a far cry from the good neighbourly relations that Turkey should have with its neighbors if it wants to become an EU member at some point in the future.

Therefore, it becomes clear that under the current circumstances no new chapters will be opened in the EU-Turkey accession talks. Even though the only thing that EU leaders and Turkey must probably agree on these days is that they do not agree on much, they are bound by mutual dependence. According to the annual European Commission Turkey report, Turkey had banned 38, 000 “foreign terrorist fighters” from entering Syria and Iraq, deported 3, 500 and detained 1, 030 more. In addition, the EU-Turkey deal on stopping Syrian refugees and others from reaching Greece has seen the number of illegal crossings fall to 80 from almost 1, 800 in early 2016. In exchange for Turkey’s help in stemming the flow of refugees and migrants, the EU has committed more than 6 billion euros in order to help Turkey manage its refugee population.

Besides Turkish help with security and migration issues, EU-Turkish financial ties are also another sphere where there is close cooperation. According to the commission, “two out of five goods traded by Turkey come from or go to the EU and over 70 percent of foreign direct investment in Turkey originates in the EU”. In addition, total trade between the two is more than 130 billion euros, five times greater than that with its next largest trading partner China. To put it simply, Turkey’s prosperity and Erdoğan’s position as President is dependent on EU ties, and, despite the differences that might exist on the surface, the EU-Turkish ties have solid foundations.

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