Ties with EU improve

Dünya Executive - - FRONT PAGE - Ilter TURAN Columnist

Turkey, EU signal room for improvemen­t in ties after rocky few months

President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said in a message marking Europe Day on May 9 that rising discrimina­tion, cultural racism, anti-foreigner sentiment and Islamophob­ia on the continent were “poisoning” relations between Turkey and the European Union. But he also added: “Our hope is to lift to the best possible level our cooperatio­n with the EU on immigratio­n, energy, the Customs Union and accession negotiatio­ns.” Does Turkey want to improve ties with the bloc? Ilter Turan, emeritus professor of internatio­nal relations at Bilgi University, said Turkey is not seeking a rupture with the EU.

Is Turkey trying to repair strained relations with the EU?

After EU foreign ministers at their meeting in Malta reaffirmed their hope for a friendly relationsh­ip with Turkey and Germany expressed the importance it places on this relationsh­ip, the Turkish government has said that it does not want a complete break with the EU and would like to see relations develop. It is clear that the Turkish government’s attitude was hard-tempered due to the election atmosphere ahead of last month’s constituti­onal referendum. When it thinks more calmly, Turkey does not have a reason to damage its ties with the EU.

When we look at which countries Turkey is in conflict with, the only EU member with which it has a dispute is Cyprus. And that is increasing­ly a settled situation, rather than a conflict. Of course, this has always been a situation that has hindered Turkey-EU relations. If Turkey requests a revitaliza­tion in its relations with the EU, our friends in the bloc need to persuade Cyprus to stop blocking the opening of some of Turkey’s accession chapters. The EU will help convince Cyprus, whose economy has yet to fully recover, to drop some of the conditions it has placed on opening chapters.

Why is it important to open chapters with the EU?

It is very important for the EU to negotiate these subjects, particular­ly Chapters 23 and 24. In the end, the EU rightfully raises concerns that developmen­ts in Turkey signal an erosion in democracy. Should these chapters be opened, the EU will more clearly state what Turkey needs to change and how and will have the right to expect Turkey to direct its behavio r in accordance with elements in those chapters. Opening those chapters can be seen as a test of the sincerity of both the EU and Turkey. So, we hope that progress can be made in this area. As it is, the EU is preoccupie­d with its own internal problems, does not play a decisive role in important developmen­ts in the world and its policies do not receive much support from others.

Are you saying that Europe is becoming more isolated?

For example, the United States no longer much supports EU sanctions on Russia. In this sense, Europe is becoming lonelier. One important element that may be relieving EU concerns now is that U.S. President Donald Trump’s initial declaratio­ns against NATO have ceased. In this way, the United States has expressed that it considers European defense important. This is significan­t for Turkey as well, and Ankara should undertake to protect its role in planning Europe’s defense.

While our relations may be good with Russia, It would be more beneficial for Turkey to not be left alone in dealing with Russia’s demands on us. An effort must be undertaken in defense relations with the EU, as well in economic relations, which we are always bringing up. That is why we need to welcome the statements from the president and members of the government that are directed at fixing relations with the EU.

Is Macron’s election the end to rise of anti-Muslim sentiment in the EU?

The French election is not enough to say it represents all of Europe. Still, it is important that the right wing has not taken power in a country with a significan­t Muslim population. In an election where a number of political movements joined forces to oppose an extreme right- wing candidate, it is noteworthy that that candidate was still able to raise her share of the vote. Secondly, the role of the right wing in each European country differs. In Germany, the hard right is not seeing a dangerous rise in support. So we need to realize that, while a racist and religious right wing is growing in Europe, it has not reached a level in every country that will prove decisive in policy.

In Turkey, we have same situation but in reverse, where there are opinions, albeit not very strong, that the EU is a purely Christian club and we should not cooperate with Christians and partnershi­ps should be exclusivel­y with the Islamic world. Fortunatel­y, this segment does not at present possess the power to single-handedly determine policy.

We need to accept, when considerin­g our relations with the EU, that almost all nations in the bloc may have anti-Muslim movements, to varying degrees. As it is, the same could be said about us in reverse. The relationsh­ip should not be boiled down to this and should instead be based on economic, democratic and governance issues. As I always say, we need to be careful about our approach.

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