Turkey-EU relations deteriorate from gentleman’s agreement to sanctions rhetoric

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Relations between NATO allies Germany and Turkey have plunged over disputes related to last July's failed coup and a subsequent crackdown on alleged conspirators. [Senol Demir/ Flickr]

The EU and Turkey should focus on working together, as they have both already proven that they are capable of doing so. The Customs Agreement and Visa Liberalisation frameworks are a good starting point, writes Ahmet Ceran.

Ahmet Ceran is a researcher at the Economic Development Foundation (IKV) specialising in Turkey-EU relations.

Ever since the Oxford Dictionary announced “post-truth” as word of the year, international systems have been encountering post-truth politics intensively.

The course of the recent diplomatic crisis between Turkey and the Netherlands drew another chaotic picture of this phenomenon.

The crisis was first reflected to the international media through the images of the clash between mounted Dutch policemen and Turkish protesters in Rotterdam, then the tragicomic images of Turkish protestors in front of Dutch diplomatic missions in Turkey squeezing “representational oranges”.

Yet the crisis was not “post-truth” or tragicomic; what happened was actual, negative and serious.

The diplomatic crisis emerged in the beginning of March as a result of the contrary position of competent authorities of some European countries; Germany, Austria and the Netherlands towards Turkish politicians, forbidding their referendum campaigns within their borders.

In the ongoing process, reciprocal furious statements upped the tension and, consequently, on 11 March, Dutch authorities withdrew landing permission for the plane carrying Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu who was planning as a part of the referendum campaign to meet the Turkish population in Rotterdam.

Just after the cancellation of the flight permit, Turkish Minister of Family and Social Policies Fatma Betül Sayan Kaya was prevented from addressing a campaign rally, entering Turkey’s consulate in Rotterdam after she had travelled from Germany to Rotterdam by car.

Deportation of a Turkish minister from the Netherlands constituted an unprecedented practice which contradicts long lasting customs well established between Turkey and the EU countries.

Besides, in regard to means and methods, Dutch police forces’ disproportional interventions on the Turkish protesters and blockade of the diplomatic representation of Turkey in Rotterdam also flared up the situation.

This incident would clearly be considered as a definitive snapshot of the current state of tensions concerning Turkey-EU relations. Mutual lack of communication has led to a devastating “dialogue of the deaf” among all stakeholders.

Threatening speeches just before and after Turkey – the Netherlands diplomatic crisis that disregarding national sensibilities of both sides resulted in transformation of the relations to destructive sanctions rhetoric.

This negative rhetoric has long been spreading through some other EU countries and institutions, Turkish decision makers and the public on both sides, endangering the relations. Yet, the solution is applicable and fair: softening the rhetoric, mutual understanding of the social sensibilities, focusing on technical achievements and once again, establishing the gentlemen’s agreement.

Within the current context, what is a gentlemen’s agreement? As a critical regional actor and economic power, Turkey’s relations with the EU countries have meaning far beyond that of a standard EU accession negotiation framework.

The gentlemen’s dialogue and cooperation desire have always been the driving force behind this long lasting neighbourhood and association shaping the current integration of the parties.

Basic principles of the international law doctrine, together with the treaties, decisions of courts and tribunals, statutes and regulations consider general customs and political attitudes of competent authorities as essential elements.

Between sovereign states, binding, reliable international/transnational or supranational practices and customs could be established only by cooperation and mutual trust of the parties.

Current rhetoric depending on marginalising sanction and suspension threats has shaken the gentlemen’s agreement; it has formed an unprecedented Gordian Knot.

In such thin air, to be able to repair the diplomacy machine, prioritising social sensitivity and focusing on technical level mutual achievements and making this technical dialogue an essential part of the mainstream polity are necessary.

European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management Christos Stylianides summed this up perfectly in less than 140 characters through his tweet during the technical visit to Turkey concerning civil protection, migration management cooperation on 27 March: ”….. Loud & clear positive signal of good work we can do when we come together.”

Recently two enormous technical negotiations that would have noticeable positive effects on normalization of the dialogue come to the forefront: modernisation of Turkey-EU Customs Union and Turkey-EU Visa Liberalisation Dialogue.

During the last five years, Turkey has carried out a large number of reforms to fulfil the 72 criteria indicated within Turkey-EU Visa Liberalisation Roadmap and to align the migration management, home affairs legislation to the EU acquis.

Finalisation of this technical process in short to medium term might be considered as the biggest technical achievement/success story through this decade of Turkey-EU relations.

Given that the EU has finalised the visa liberalisation dialogues with Georgia as well as Ukraine and reformed the suspension mechanism, the success of the Turkey-EU Dialogue would be timelier than ever to save the gentlemen’s agreement, which currently stands at a crossroads.