Erdoğan’s Visit to Macron: What’s New?
President Erdoğan’s bilateral visit to Paris on January 5, the first official visit he made to a major European capital for some time, marked important changes in the dynamics of EU–Turkey relations.
France was never a supporter of Turkey’s accession to the EU in the past, and during a joint press conference with Erdoğan, Macron made it clear that it was time to end the hypocrisy of pretending that Turkey has a real EU accesion perspective, although he did not mention the complete termination of the accession process. This is more a continuation of France’s approach to Turkey than a break. While French presidents Chirac and Hollande had proposed a referendum on the accession of Turkey to the EU, Sarkozy had openly opposed Turkey’s membership.
During the press conference with Erdoğan, Macron suggested to rethink the relations between the EU and Turkey not in terms of integration, but in terms of cooperation — a partnership. This was a paraphrasing of privileged partnership proposed by Chancellor Merkel as an alternative to Turkey’s full membership in the EU in 2005. Back then, Turkey had strongly rejected a privileged partnership and made it clear that no arrangement short of full membership would be acceptable for Turkey. What is new this time is that President Erdoğan chose not to react to President Macron, who basically suggested nothing different from what Merkel had suggested in 2005.
Erdoğan’s visit to Paris and Turkish Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu’s visit to his German counterpart Gabriel may mark the normalization of EU–Turkey relations, but not in a way that will put Turkey’s EU accession process back on track. Here, normalization means accepting realities as they are and adapting them to the new conditions. Even if the new framework for relations without an accession perspective will not be formalized in a near future, all the indicators direct us toward a normalization of relations based on common interests. So, the EU member states and Turkey will deepen bilateral relations in trade, combating terrorism, and immigration without any significant development in the accession track. During the press conference, Macron also said that the aim should be to ensure that Turkey and the Turkish people’s future are fully anchored in the Europe. But he provided no details on how this would be possible in the absence of a full membership perspective for Turkey.
We will probably soon see a discussion between Brussels and Ankara on strengthening EU–Turkey relations based not on the accession process, but on common interest. But even for this, there should be a minimum of mutual trust and dialogue that does not exist today.
In all of this, Turkey is no longer the Turkey of 2005 when the negotiations for full membership were started and seems to be no longer motivated to implement the reforms necessary for accession. Two important votes confirm this from a European perspective. The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE) decided on April 25, 2017, to reopen the monitoring procedure in respect of Turkey until “serious concerns” about respect for human rights, democracy, and the rule of law “are addressed in a satisfactory manner.” On the other hand, the European Parliament voted on July 6, 2017, to propose that the European Commission suspend accession negotiations with Turkey.
Under these conditions, it will not be easy for Turkey to achieve a lasting normalization of relations with the EU, unless a shallow transactional relationship based on mutual interests, rather than an integration process based on mutual values and shared vision, is accepted as the new normal. The prerequisite for building a stronger relationship with the EU with or without a full membership perspective is Turkey’s normalizing itself first.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.