The Brief, powered by APPLiA – Imagine Turkey without Erdogan

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The Brief is EURACTIV's evening newsletter. [EPA-EFE/AKIN CELIKTAS]

At the 10-11 December EU summit, the main foreign policy intrigue is whether the member states will adopt sanctions against Recep Erdoğan’s Turkey. But Germany and France are divided.

Just like Greece and Cyprus, France insists on sanctions, against the background of Turkish claims in the Eastern Mediterranean, its more assertive policy vis-à-vis Cyprus, meddling in the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, and outright insults by Erdoğan aimed directly at President Emmanuel Macron.

Macron, let’s not forget, also wants to appear as a strong leader internally, in view of the 2022 elections, where he will be challenged by the nativist right-wingers of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally.

Also, France supports Greece in its problems with Turkey much more strongly than Germany does.

Germany is much more careful, and understandably so.

The country is vulnerable in case Erdoğan decides to abandon the 2016 EU-Turkey agreement to stop migrants crossing from the Turkish shores to the nearby Greek islands. Instead of sanctions, Berlin prefers to “keep the flexibility to transform and bring Turkey back into the family of peaceful nations”.

Germany is home to three million Turks, whose ancestors were invited as ‘guest workers’ during the economic boom of the 1960s. Some 1.5 million Germans have Turkish citizenship. France has a big Armenian diaspora, and that’s also part of the explanation why it’s so suspicious of Turkey’s role in Nagorno-Karabakh.

However, the summit is not about imagining a better future without President Erdoğan. EU summits, in general, are about taking decisions by demonstrating the unity of EU countries on important issues.

It is true that unity is much more difficult in periods of crisis, with external geopolitical players trying to divide our union. And under Erdoğan, Turkey is increasingly behaving like a new geopolitical player, aiming precisely at undermining the EU – like Putin’s Russia.

There are some big differences, though. Turkey is (still) a candidate for EU accession, it is also the ally of the majority of EU countries in NATO, it is also (still) a democratic country where elections can produce results in favour of the opposition, as recent local elections have shown.

And Turkey has a strong secular opposition which nourishes hopes for much closer relations with the EU. That’s why Germany prefers to imagine a brighter future, rather than engage in escalation.

Speaking of sanctions, one should better explain what’s in stock for Turkey.

This is not about withdrawing its candidate status. The first phase of sanctions would concern Turkey’s energy sector, i.e. companies involved in the illegal drilling in the Eastern Mediterranean in the exclusive economic zones of Greece and Cyprus. Similar sanctions have worked well in the case of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

If the EU is united, Erdoğan will back down, analysts say.

Clearly, there are overlapping claims over the economic zones in the Eastern Mediterranean, and in the absence of an agreement, an international court should decide, before any fait accompli.

It’s easier said than implemented, though. But this is the right way. Regarding  Erdoğan, there should be an elegant way to show him – and the rest of the world – that he is not the desired interlocutor.

And if Merkel and Macron have such big differences on Turkey, or any other issue, they had better meet before the summit. Good Franco-German relations are more important than ever.


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The Roundup

German Chancellor Angela Merkel aims to keep a channel of communication open with Turkey as opposition forces in the country are advocating a different approach toward the EU, social democrat MEP Udo Bullmann told EURACTIV.

The EU has invited US President-elect Joe Biden for two summits – one virtual, and one in person – in the first half of next year to discuss “strategic” issues ranging from the COVID crisis to climate change, peace and security, an EU source has said.

Reaching a solution for the deadlocked EU budget between all EU countries as soon as possible is a ‘fundamental issue’, the forthcoming Portuguese presidency of the EU has said, warning that failure to do so would further undermine citizens’ trust in the bloc.

Austria has called on the European Commission to make online platforms more accountable for the hosting of illegal content in a series of recommendations for the EU’s Digital Services Act, citing the country’s Communication Platforms Act as an example for the EU to follow.

The difference in production standards has been one of many causes for disagreement during the negotiations of the EU-Mercosur agreement.

Greenhouse gas emissions in the EU dropped by 3.7% last year, bringing the bloc on track to smash its 2020 emission goals by 4 percentage points, according to the European Environment Agency.

A fresh biofuels fraud investigation in the Netherlands has once again shone a spotlight on the origin of imported used cooking oil (UCO) in the EU.

Look out for…

  • EU economic and finance, culture ministers meet
  • EU-ASEAN meeting
  • NATO foreign ministers meeting
  • European Parliament’s INTA, CONT, TRAN, SEDE, AGRI, LIBE, FISC, DROI, FEMM, ENVI Committees

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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