Johannes Hahn, the European Union’s commissioner for enlargement, was in Ankara last week to discuss EU-Turkish relations. Turkey is one of Europe’s most important neighbors, a strategic and trading partner.
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At precisely the same time, the European Parliament approved by large majorities two resolutions (both of them fortunately non-binding) about Turkey. Neither has any official consequences, which makes them technically harmless, but both are potentially toxic in terms of perceptions.
The first resolution called on Ankara to abandon plans to build a nuclear power plant at Akkuyu, in southern Turkey, on grounds that its location in an earthquake zone presents a threat to the entire Mediterranean. If a single European MP had bothered to look up Akkuyu’s location and compare it with a reasonably detailed seismic map, he or she would have discovered that this area carries very little risk of a major earthquake.
More dangerous was the second resolution, which called on the European Commission and EU member states “to formally suspend the accession negotiations with Turkey without delay if the constitutional reform package is implemented unchanged.”
Turkey has not been treated fairly by some EU member states since accession talks began in earnest in 2005
Regardless of the constitutional changes being pushed through by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan to give the president wide powers, Turkey-bashing is becoming prevalent in some European countries as a populistic tool to win favor with voters. The behavior of Euro MPs in Strasbourg underscores this tendency.
As noted above, Turkey is a crucial, and generally reliable, partner of the EU. It has a special status by being both a European and an Asian country.
In the 30 years since Turkey has applied for EU membership, and in particular once accession talks began in earnest in 2005, Turkey has not been treated fairly by some EU member states. The benchmark for internal reforms has been adjusted constantly upwards during the negotiations.
A better and more honest solution would have been to set a limit to accession – not on the number of member states, but in terms of geography. This would have allowed Turkey to conclude a very solid association agreement with the EU, while avoiding the shameful procedure of negotiations that appear intended to stop short of actual Turkish membership.
Ironically, the refugee and migration crisis deepened fear of foreigners, including Turks, among the European public. This is a grotesquely unfair and unwarranted reaction, but it has been exploited by populist-minded politicians and governments – even those claiming to be “moderates.”
Turkish refugees or migrants are not likely to set foot in Europe in large numbers. To help contain the large flows coming from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, the Turkish government has proved to be Europe’s only reliable partner, and a very generous one. If one judges by public attitudes and practical actions toward receiving refugees, Turkey shows a much higher humanitarian standard than Europe.
Alienating such a close European ally is complete idiocy
Europe has much more valid concerns about migration from Africa, but that has nothing to do with Turkey. Nevertheless, to the extent that the issue has increased anxiety and xenophobia in Europe, it has contributed to further antagonism toward the Turks. That European politicians have exploited these fears shows their complete irresponsibility.
The world is getting more and more dangerous. Europe needs friends and strategic partners. Alienating such a close European ally as Turkey is complete idiocy. Such measures will certainly not help the Turkish opposition. More likely, they will help to drive pluralism to the margins of Turkish political life.
Friends engage in open and collaborative discussions. They do not toss stink bombs at each other, as the European Parliament did with its toxic resolutions on Turkey.
For Turks, the visa requirement to enter the EU remains a major problem, both as an administrative hassle and but also as a matter of recognition. Lifting this humiliating restriction on business travel and tourism would be a helpful first step.
It is hard to understand why this did not happen long ago, since visa-free travel is scarcely likely to trigger illegal immigration from Turkey on any large scale. There is a difference between ordinary travel and establishing residence, working or relying on welfare. These latter categories, which are arousing the real concern, would still require obtaining official work or residence permits.
A sound attitude toward Turkey is crucial for Europe. At this moment, a good, working relationship with Turkey is probably more relevant for EU members and other European countries than it is for Turkey. A Europe that neglects its global defenses and its interests to the east and south is already on a dangerous path. Alienating Turkey would simply be masochistic and self-destructive folly.