At a press conference in January 2018, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan complained that waiting for the EU membership had been exhausting for his nation to which French President Emmanuel Macron replied that, “for relations with the European Union, it is clear that recent developments and choices allow no progress.” The French leader continued by pointing out that “we must get out of a hypocrisy that consists in thinking that a natural progression towards opening new chapters is possible. It’s not true.”
Today, 12 years after the start of the membership negotiations and more than 50 years following an association agreement with the European Economic Community, Turkey has opened only 16 chapters of the talks. The Turkish-EU relationship is not in a good shape and the “small talk” between Mr. Macron and Mr. Erdogan only demonstrates the reality of the micro-cosmos of what has been described by journalists as ”hypocrisy” of the Turkish accession to the EU. It is also a dialogue leading to a slow divorce.
The possibility of Turkey’s membership was once hailed as a major strategic opportunity for both partners. Now, Europe has announced that the actual prospects are dire and many chapters have been blocked. The relationship suffers from a series of political crises that are re-emerging on a regular basis and the question therefore is what can be preserved and achieved in the future. To that end, among European leaders, there is still strong support for deeper relations and the idea of “Turkey and Europe” but not much support for the actual membership. This leaves only one option open: downgrade the membership talks, focus on bilateral relations, and build a new vocabulary around the concept of “Turkey and Europe”, as opposed to “Turkey and the EU”.
Within this potential new framework, a lot can be done to boost the mutual relations. The focus could include revamping the existing customs union with the EU, developing human rights dialogue through Council of Europe, deepening counter-terrorism and energy ties and stabilizing the Middle East. Economic cooperation could be another avenue to explore. Brussels can still maintain relations with Ankara and Turkish civil society through existing enlargement platforms. Yet, membership cannot be the trend-setting principle of Turkey’s relations with Europe at a time when Ankara is drifting away from Copenhagen Criteria and an inward-looking Europe does not have much appetite for enlargement.
‘The Discreet Charm of Hypocrisy: An EU-Turkey Power Audit’ – Policy Brief by Asli Aydintasbas – European Council on Foreign Relations / ECFR.