The Brief, powered by VDMA – Can the EU trust 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/TOLGA BOZOGLU]

With the visit of Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu to Brussels, Turkey is attempting to change tack vis-à-vis the EU.

Confrontation in the Eastern Mediterranean has led nowhere. More tensions have arisen in LibyaCyprus and Nagorno-Karabakh. Personal attacks on EU leaders, President Macron in particular, have caused damage that’s difficult to repair.

Besides, the economic situation in Turkey is deteriorating and the country is missing out on economic opportunities. As an example, the bad political climate has caused Volkswagen to reverse its €1 billion investment in Turkey and re-direct it to Slovakia instead.

In short, things are not looking good for Ankara.

With Brexit, Turkey has lost a precious supporter in the EU. Moreover, Turkey is uncomfortable with the new Biden administration, anticipating an end to the US laissez-faire approach in Syria under Trump, and the resumption of Washington’s support for the Kurdish PKK considered a terrorist organisation by Ankara.

A “new beginning” with the EU and the start of bilateral talks with Greece to find solutions over the Aegean Sea are clearly in the interest of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.

Besides, the Turkish strongman lives in constant fear of a military coup d’état, a tradition in his country. The more catastrophic the situation in and around Turkey, the more likely a coup becomes.

For Erdoğan, the improvement of relations with the EU is a matter of survival.

For its part, the EU has decided on a carrot-and-stick policy towards Ankara, which includes a positive political agenda with a specific emphasis on the modernisation of the Customs Union and trade facilitation, people to people contacts, high-level dialogue, and continued cooperation on migration issues.

The question is, of course, how credible is Erdoğan’s change of tactics, and how to avoid the EU ending up looking stupid, or at least naïve, by making overtures to a cheating tyrant.

The heavy historic and legal background of the dispute between Turkey and Greece in the Aegean Sea only suggests how long and difficult the talks to delimitate the territorial waters, the continental shelf, and exclusive economic zones could be.

But the proof of the pudding is in the Greek-Turkish bilateral talks.

It was the right decision to keep them outside the EU framework, but Brussels should still keep an eye on them. Because in the absence of progress, the EU should have no reason to extend the carrot to Ankara. Not to Erdoğan, in any case.

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Look out for…

  • Informal meeting of education ministers

Views are the author’s

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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