Judy Asks: Is the EU Selling Out to Turkey?
Rosa Balfour Senior fellow in the Europe Program at the German Marshall Fund of the United States
The temptation to sell out to Turkey for short-term gains on the refugee flow exists in some parts of Europe. In other parts, there is outrage at the picture of a trade-off, either because of the human rights situation in Turkey or because spending €3 billion ($3.2 billion) to support Turkey is seen as too much. If the EU does not get over its internal differences and move on to developing a global approach to Turkey, the decisions reached at the EU-Turkey summit on November 29 may backfire—with potentially disastrous consequences.
Turkey sits across key European interests. Its role in the Syria peace talks and ambiguous approach to the self-proclaimed Islamic State are preoccupying. The deterioration of the peace process with Turkey’s Kurds and the polarization of domestic politics are dangerous. The EU cannot turn a blind eye to government repression of dissent, not just because of human rights, but also because such repression is undermining Turkey’s own stability.
With many hot issues on the table, the EU cannot afford to fall into the trap of trading accession for cooperation on the refugee flow. Turkey is also vulnerable: it is surrounded by a devastating conflict, is internally insecure, and has few friends left in the region. Ankara’s diatribe with Moscow after Turkish forces shot down a Russian aircraft near the Syrian-Turkish border on November 24 was the latest in a series of foreign policy blunders. So Europe need not beg for Ankara’s cooperation.
Developing a global approach to the complex jigsaw involving Turkey will have to be the next step. A positive message to Europeans and to Ankara would be to show that the EU’s relationship with Turkey is not an instrumental give-and-take but part of a bigger picture with high stakes and potential high gains for all.
Ian Lesser Executive Director of the Transatlantic Center, the Brussels office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States
The short answer is no. Cooperation with Turkey is absolutely critical if the EU is to have any hope of managing what is likely to be a protracted migration challenge from Syria, Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Turkey has already absorbed perhaps as many as 3 million refugees since the start of the civil war in Syria. The longer-term social and economic costs to Turkey are likely to be enormous, and the €3 billion ($3.2 billion) in assistance promised by the EU will help alleviate a pressing human security problem.
The broader package of elements agreed to at the November 29 Turkey-EU summit may spur Ankara to action against human trafficking networks and reduce the flow of refugees across the Aegean Sea. The agreement opens the way for closer cooperation between Ankara and Brussels on a range of foreign and security policy issues where the EU needs Turkey—and vice versa.
The deal signals a return to pragmatic, transactional diplomacy. It does not necessarily signal a fast track on the larger question of Turkey’s EU membership. Real movement on this front will require many things to come together, from improvement in Turkey’s deteriorating internal situation to settlement of the dispute over the division of Cyprus. It is not even clear that the political climate in Europe will permit visa liberalization for Turks, which was agreed to conditionally at the summit in Brussels, much less pave the way to EU membership.
Stephen Szabo Executive Director of the Transatlantic Academy
The EU is witnessing the return of realpolitik and a serious erosion of its postmodern nature. The refugee crisis is the tipping point for a Europe already overstressed by a series of crises that threaten the eurozone, the security of Southern and Eastern Europe, and the political stability of a growing number of member states. Now throw on top of this the potential end of the Schengen passport-free zone, and the danger to all that Europe has painstakingly built over the past half century is clear and present.
The openness and interdependence of a postnational and postmodern Europe are now fading and are not likely to come back. The massive influx of Muslim refugees and the state failures that this influx has produced have confronted Europeans with the brutal realities of the use of force and threats to their open societies and identities. One example is the sudden increase in the numbers of young Frenchmen signing up for military service and the French president’s use of the term “war” in dealing with the November 13 Paris attacks.
Europeans now have to make messy compromises that realpolitik demands, starting with Turkey. Turkey is Europe’s Mexico. The administration of U.S. President Barack Obama has compromised with Mexico, providing aid and other incentives to a semifailed state in return for its assistance in halting the influx of economic and political refugees from Central America, with success. Europe now has to do the same with Turkey. The only question is the price Europe must pay, but this is one precondition for stabilizing Europe. More such compromises are sure to follow.
Özgür Ünlühisarcıklı Director of the Ankara office of the German Marshall Fund of the United States
The November 29 deal between the EU and Turkey—encompassing visa liberalization, biannual EU-Turkey summits, the opening of at least one new chapter in Turkey’s EU accession negotiations, as well as cash in return for Turkey stemming the refugee flow to the EU—will reenergize the EU-Turkey relationship but may also change its nature.
Consumed by its own crisis, the EU has little appetite for further enlargement, while being virtually at war with itself. Meanwhile, Turkey is not in democratization mode. These circumstances have inevitably led to the accession process being put on the back burner. The positive agenda that was launched in 2012 to reenergize EU-Turkey relations has not delivered any concrete results either.
Elements of the November 29 deal correspond to the positive agenda and may hopefully revitalize the EU-Turkey relationship if implemented. However, this deal is missing an essential aspect: promoting political reforms and fundamental rights in Turkey. The EU accession process was seen as a democratic anchor for Turkey, but the fact that Turkey can make gains in the process accompanied by concerns over the rule of law and media freedoms in the country raises concerns that this may not be the case anymore.