28 March 2018 15:24

Erdoğan did not get what he wants from the EU

President Tayyip Erdoğan returned empty-handed from the Turkey-EU summit in Varna, which promised high hopes and a new beginning.

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Yücel ÖZDEMİR
Cologne

 
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attended the Turkey-EU summit with high hopes of leaving behind previous issues and making a new start but returned from Varna without achieving what he wanted. EU representatives at the summit criticised Turkey on human rights, Cyprus, Greece and Afrin.

THE OUTCOME WAS CLEAR BEFORE THE SUMMIT

It was clear that there would be no progress made at the Turkey-EU summit from the declaration that followed last week’s EU summit. The declaration highlighted concerns regarding the Turkish military operation in Afrin as well as clear messages against Turkish boycott of Cypriot ships and the arrest of two Greek soldiers.

The outcomes of the EU summit were repeated to Erdoğan by Boyko Borisov, the Bulgarian Prime Minister and the current President of the EU, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, and Jean-Claude Juncker, President of the European Commission. They urged Turkey to give up these policies. Despite this, Erdoğan arrived at the summit hoping to normalise relations and even restart discussions on issues such as the ending of visa requirements for Turkish citizens and entry into the customs union. He made it clear before arriving in Varna that he wants to end the tension and normalise relations with the EU.

TENSIONS WITH CYPRUS AND GREECE WHERE INFLUENTIAL

Judging by the declarations before and after the summit in Varna, the policies of the AKP government, based on creating tension between Greece and Cyprus, worked to its disadvantage in Turkey-EU relationships. In defence of the rights of both member countries, Tusk and Juncker gave a clear message to Erdoğan; it will not be possible to make much headway unless the relationships with Cyprus and Greece are normalised.

Cyprus -traditionally a subject of argument between Turkey and EU- became the subject of discussion this time round because of natural gas explorations in the Mediterranean Sea. In order to prevent Cypriots explorations for natural gas, the AKP government had mobilised a number of warships in February.    

EU INSINCERE ON HUMAN RIGHTS AND AFRIN

On different occasions, EU leaders brought up usual criticisms of the authoritarian regime in Turkey; human rights, the State of Emergency and freedom of the press. However, these were overshadowed by the tensions with Greece and Cyprus. This demonstrates that issues of human rights violations and freedom of the press in Turkey will not affect the Turkey-EU relations in the future, as it did not in the past. Both parties have again confirmed their commitment to uphold mutual promises on the refugee agreement. President of the EU Commission Junker stated that the remaining 3 billion Euros [from the refugee agreement] will be released to Turkey.

Messages regarding Afrin from EU leaders, such as German Chancellor Angela Merkel, also seemed insincere. Having only expressed their “concerns” during the 58 days of ‘Operation Olive Branch’ by Turkey in Afrin, the EU took a tougher stance at the summit. Juncker openly voiced concerns about the EU at a press conference, saying “Struggle against terrorism should be carried out in a frame that is bound by rules and determined by international law.”  Nevertheless, EU officials and member countries refrained from making clear calls to Erdoğan during the days of the operation. Furthermore, part of the funds given as part of the refugee agreement was released while the military operation was well underway. All this shows that EU is not sincere in its criticism of Afrin and human rights violations.

Furthermore, EU countries - and primarily Germany - continue to sell arms to Turkey and continue to provide military aid in protecting its southern borders. Despite the fact that some of the funds given to help refugees appear to be used for security operations, no criticism has been made in this regard.

EVERYONE’S STRATEGIC PARTNER

President Erdoğan’s statements before the summit - aimed at softening the EU - that EU membership is still a goal for Turkey and that he wants to be a strategic partner to the EU in the region did not receive much attention.

Some German newspapers may have Erdoğan’s “EU membership is our goal” as a headline but everyone agrees that this will not happen anytime soon. Erdoğan described the EU as a “strategic partner”, as he did with the US and Russia. It is noteworthy that Juncker responded to this with: “we need to establish a sincere and honest dialogue with strategic partners. We want the intervention in Syria to be within the international law, and this is a condition of ours.”

Evidently, EU leaders grasp the insincerity of the “strategic partnership” offered by Erdoğan, which he also offered to other powers with different goals and plans, and they did not pay much attention to it.

CONTINUED DIALOGUE DESPITE NO PROGRESS

It is evident that Erdoğan did not return with any tangible results from the summit at Varna, despite the attached great significance and the high hopes. Although headlines in Turkey read “Spring in the air in relations with the EU” no such confirming statements were made in the German press.    

At the end of the summit, Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council, said "If you want to say that we reached decisions and concessions at this meeting, my answer is ‘No’. We expressed all our concerns and worries; regarding the freedom of the press, bilateral relations and the Afrin operation. We focused on continued dialogue between EU and Turkey and agreed that this dialogue should be developed.”

Hence, Erdoğan has to wait for a new spring. Furthermore, Austria - in line to take over Presidency of the EU in June - had called for the discussions to be frozen prior to the summit. It is clear that, during his six-month tenure as the President of the EU, Prime Minister Sebastian Kurz will try his best to prevent any progress in discussions with Turkey. Erdoğan’s hopes really are deferred until another spring and the summit turned into a ‘Turkey-EU talking therapy’ session.