Cold winds were blowing in the relations between Turkey and the European Union until very recently. According to some forecasts, chances of Turkey becoming the EU member state were next to zero. Yet again, it became clear that it would be wrong to jump to hasty conclusions. Mass Europe-bound influx of people fleeing the war in Syria had put Brussels in a difficult position. Attitude towards the migrants was negative at first but then it became obvious that this would produce a remedy. Furthermore, the EU realized that Turkey was indispensable for rectifying the situation. Interestingly, the timing of Turkey shooting down the Russian Su-24 fighter jet and the culmination of the migrant crisis had coincided.
On The Verge: EU Changing Posture?
Turkey and the European Union have not had held high-level talks on membership for quite some time. Brussels cited certain reasons for that and did not conceal its reluctance to move forward. Ankara’s attitude was reserved and patient. Both parties did not hope that a meeting would be possible until the late November. Likewise, many experts predicted that EU would not allow Turkey within its ranks.
Apparently, those who say that ‘in politics nothing is eternal’ were proven right. Two developments – fleeing of migrants to Europe and downing of Russian fighter jet had shattered the pessimistic projections. High-level Turkey-EU Summit was held on 29 November in Brussels that saw adoption of urgent and fascinating decisions (see: Türkiye-AB zirvesinde alınan kararlar / “Haber7.com”, 30 November 2015).
We need to address the geopolitical aspects of those decisions that can be divided into two groups. The first group includes provisions aimed at identifying the ways of resolving some of the outstanding issues between Turkey and the EU. The second group has to do with the future of Turkey-EU relations.
Human rights, freedom of speech, Kurds-related matters and others were among the issues that have put strain on the Ankara-Brussels exchange. Most recent development was the flow of migrants that used Turkey as transit country for accessing Europe. Initially, the Europeans failed to grasp the magnitude of the problem but the situation changed as more people started losing their lives along the way. Hundreds of thousands of civilians turned into EU’s nightmare. For the first time in EU’s history Brussels realized that there were nonviolent means of putting it in a predicament.
Moreover, terrorist acts in France had a cold shower effect on the European politicians. It became evident that Europe might make the headlines with more acts of terrorism if flow of migrants were left unchecked. Migration became an issue of geopolitical and security importance for Europe. They then realized that Turkey was crucial for the resolution of the problem.
Now according to the Western experts, this situation will overshadow the criticism against Turkey. Financial Times described it as, ‘Setting aside growing concerns about democracy in Turkey… to choke off the migrant flow’ (see: Turkey and EU seal deal on cutting migration flows into Europe / “Ft.com”, 29 November 2015). There are serious motives behind Europe’s attitude. Primary one is security and we have already talked about it. Furthermore, geopolitical landscape of the Middle East is being redrawn and there is a threat of further Russian involvement. Besides, Turkey was the only NATO member state capable of flexing military muscles against Russia.
Despite different views on downing of Russian fighter jet, even the most prominent analysts agree that that incident would change the geopolitical situation. In an interview with Politico, Zbigniew Brzezinski said, ‘In early October, in a piece I wrote for the Financial Times, I urged an effort to engage Russia in serious negotiations about the future of the region. I think perhaps we may now be doing what needs to be done’ (see: Once a Hawk, Brzezinski Sees Hope for U.S.-Russia Relations / “Politico.com”, 27 November 2015).
Future of Relations: Sincerity and Justice Theme
The abovementioned two aspects compel EU to disregard many problems in its relations with Turkey and hope for optimistic future. This fact underpins the decisions made in Brussels that are attributed to the second group. They include opening of new chapters in Turkey’s EU membership negotiations (according to Donald Tusk that included also Chapter 17), holding of regular high-level meetings as of the next year, provision of three million euros for tackling the issue of migrants and visa-free access to the EU for the Turkish nationals starting from October 2016.
Unlocking new chapters for discussion on Turkey’s EU membership is a step forward because this was nonnegotiable subject for the past 11 years, as if it that issue has been relegated. They wish to reinvigorate the process now; at least the top EU officials had spoken to that end, although some experts have doubts about those pledges. According to those opinions, Europe is still not planning to see Ankara within the union. (see: Mustafa Kutlay. Türkiye-AB Zirvesi: İlişkilerde Yeni Bir Sayfa mı? / Uluslararası Stratejik Araştırmalar Kurumu (USAK), 30 November 2015).
Full implementation of the Readmission Agreement that provides for Brussels to be able to return the unwelcomed migrants to Turkey is yet another problematic issue. Ankara has pledged to implement the agreement fully in 2016 while the EU is supposed to accept some 400 thousand migrants that are already in Turkey. Those individuals of course would need to undergo thorough background checking.
The main issue for now is how doable is the allocation of three billion Euros, facilitation of visa-free regime, full implementation of the Readmission Agreement by Ankara and sealing of its borders to prevent migrants’ access to Europe. Pessimists doubt the viability of this process. There are some optimistic opinions too. The Government of Turkey in the meantime called the decisions ‘very productive’ and vowed to fulfill their part of the deal.
EU-Turkey relations will elevate to the next level regardless of all the doubt. The primary reason is the new geopolitical situation that is emerging in the Middle East and on the global scale. Turkey has proven that it can be instrumental in ensuring energy and military security of the West. That this country is a regional power, demonstrating restraint in most critical situations. In the meantime, NATO and Western political quarters showed their readiness to defend Ankara, and both parties realized the need of mutual support.
Nevertheless, there is a serious problem. It is associated with likelihood of the West to continue pursuing double standards. Should, as certain experts predict, Europe fail on its promises, the course of the processes would be difficult to project. For instance, if Europe’s stance on human rights, national minorities and the so-called political prisoners and freedom of speech issues in Azerbaijan and Turkey remains unchanged, and it continues to lack fairness on the resolution of the Nagorno Karabakh issue, today’s efforts will hardly bear fruit.
Therefore, the summit in Brussels once again demonstrated that the EU itself should change, casting away double standards and Islamophobia. Turkey, being a Muslim nation, undertakes courageous efforts to ensure security of the European Union. Azerbaijan also favors totally just, transparent and equal cooperation with the West. That said the main problem is not factor of Islam but the misperceptions in the mindset of certain politicians. Let us hope that sense of justice and reality would finally prevail.