The stakes of the EU-Turkey relation at this extremely crucial point in time bring us to the very relevant “Turkey and the EU: Shared Challenges and Common Opportunities” panel discussion that was held on 18 October by the Istanbul Policy Center – Sabanci University – Stiftung Mercator Initiative and Friends of Turkey in the European Parliament. The panel was composed of Mr. Fuat Keyman, Mr. Artis Pabriks, Ms. Nilgün Arisan Eralp, Ms. Kati Piri, Ms. Alexandra Stiglmayer, Ms. Senem Aydin-Düzgit, Ms. Nathalie Tocci, and Ms. Ilke Toygür.
Just as the European Union has been facing extraordinary challenges in recent years, so too is Turkey undergoing difficult times of its own. While the European Union deals with the economic crisis, the refugee crisis and Brexit, Turkey is confronted with its Kurdish issue, terrorism, and deteriorating democratic standards. The failed coup attempt earlier this year has not only brought upon a new examination of human rights and freedoms in Turkey, but also a test for democracy in the country.
What is at stake: summary of the panel discussion
The panellists highlighted that ever since democracy in Turkey was gravely challenged, EU-Turkey relations have become increasingly taut. Trust to engagement issues between the two sides have not only come to light, but have also highlighted the stalemated state of play. Furthermore, the EU-Turkey Agreement has become even more a source of tension than when it was signed. As both sides are facing their own challenges, and are suffering from a lack of trust towards each other, it may be difficult to imagine them collaborating towards shared resolutions on the Cyprus issue, the refugee and migrant crisis, and the fight against terrorism. However, it is precisely these shared challenges that, if turned into common opportunities, could provide the basis for strengthened EU-Turkey relations.
Regarding the decades-long Cyprus dispute, Mr. Fuat Keyman – Director of Istanbul Policy Center – is convinced that if there is trust between the Greek Cypriots and their Turkish counterparts, a renewal of EU-Turkey relations would be possible. However, he also remarked that despite a good amount of good will, political will, and trust between leaders of the northern region and the southern region of the island, a resolution to the dispute is still out of reach. Since it isn’t even possible to discuss a resolution to the dispute yet, it is even less possible to engage in a dialogue on the implementation of the resolution. To add fuel to the fire, the window of opportunity to resolve this issue is becoming smaller and smaller. Nevertheless, if a resolution were to come into focus, it would have a positive impact on Turkey-EU relations, as it would provide a new narrative for the EU and strengthen the rule of law and democracy in Turkey.
Concerning the visa liberalisation issue, Ms. Kati Piri – MEP – stated that despite the genuine political will on the part of EU political leaders to provide Turkey with this deliverable, they are unwilling to lower the standards of the criteria, as it would spell political suicide. If Turkey is willing to adapt itself to the EU’s criteria, there is a possibility that the path towards visa liberalisation would be opened. Nevertheless, the issue would have to pass through the European Commission and the Council first, which could prove to be difficult. Regardless of the difficulty of the issue, Ms. Kati Piri believes visa liberalisation could be more than symbolic. Mr. Fuat Keyman echoed his agreement with Ms. Kati Piri’s statement and put forth that visa liberalisation could change the Turkish people’s perspective towards the EU, through which EU-Turkey relations could be revitalised.
The role of the Turkish people in EU’s global strategy
The people of Turkey also play an important role in the EU’s global strategy, as one of its main goals is to increase resilience in not only the state of Turkey, but also in the people. According to the definition of increasing resilience in the global strategy, it entails the EU’s support in political reforms, the rule of law, and economic convergence, which would thus allow Turkey to withstand and recover from internal and external crisis in this case.
Principled pragmatism in Turkey-EU relations
A broad philosophy of the aforementioned global strategy is principled pragmatism, according to Ms. Nathalie Tocci – Special Adviser to the EU HRVP. Principled pragmatism could be defined as not compromising on principles because of pragmatic considerations. Indeed, it may seem as if there was a dichotomy between pragmatism and principles, as pointed out by Dr. Thomas Grunert – EP Fellow; however, Ms. Nathalie Tocci argues that the term should not be regarded as contradictory, but as a concept in which the principles and the pragmatism go together, especially in Turkey-EU relations.
The deployment of principled pragmatism can be seen in Turkey-EU relations, in regards to the refugee crisis. The EU doesn’t wish a weakening of democracy and rule of law upon Turkey, which would treat Turkey solely as a buffer zone and be too pragmatic an approach; instead, the EU strives to employ the principles of security, democracy and economy together towards Turkey as part of its global strategy. Indeed, principled pragmatism is a good solution to the stalemate in EU-Turkey relations on the EU side.
The panellists were optimistic that EU-Turkey relations would finally be able to move forward and contribute to create a more democratic world, with the help of tools such as trust and principled pragmatism. In their expert opinion, these two tools could facilitate the collaboration of the EU and Turkey, turning shared challenges into common opportunities.
AER delegation to Ankara
Concerned by the attempted coup and the aftermath, AER organised a visit to Ankara, Turkey from 19 to 20 September headed by AER President, Dr. Hande Ozsan Bozatli and a delegation of AER members and representatives from various partner organisations. As a true representative of the regions of Europe, and in turn an advocate for multilevel governance, democracy and subsidiarity, AER’s goal was to demonstrate solidarity with Turkey in the wake of the failed coup attempt on 15 July. Along with this goal, AER also aimed at safeguarding the constructive dialogue on democracy, peace and welfare between the regions of Europe and those of Turkey. These goals of AER fall under the larger framework of EU-Turkey relations, whose success very much depends on cooperation between the two sides.
AER will continue to follow EU-Turkey relations as well as the situation in Turkey in the same way it has done so in the past in order to reach out to other countries in similar difficulties. Regional democracy and thereby, its ability to contribute to peace and cooperation, are a top priority for AER. The role of the regions at this stalemated point of EU-Turkey relations at this moment in time is more important now than ever.