The tension that erupted with Washington over detained pastor Andrew Brunson has, in a manner that none of us expected, reinvigorated the idea of “Europe” in Ankara. German politicians, accused of being “Nazis” a year ago by Turkey, are one by one speaking of their readiness to help Turkey avoid an economic crisis. The Europeans have embraced the notion that stability in Turkey must be preserved. Mutual negotiations have speeded up. Berat Albayrak is on a European tour. Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu has been invited for the first time in years to the meeting of EU foreign ministers known as “Gynmich”.
The Reform Monitoring Group, whose existence we had even forgotten about, convened in Ankara, this time named the Reform Action Group.
Well, is all this for real? Have those governing Turkey started to think, “Hold on. It can’t go on like this. The best thing is for us to return to the EU process. Let’s initiate reforms and improve Turkey’s prospects,” or is the calculation, “Heck, relations with America are bad. Let’s find cash somewhere. Let’s get ourselves photographed with other allies and show Trump we’re not without alternatives?”
The latter, of course. Nevertheless, Turkey’s rapprochement with Europe is still a positive development given that it might, even by accident, engender a number of “normalisation” steps that will also be beneficial to us. However, there are certain points that preclude excessive optimism on my part.
Will accession negotiations begin? The first reason for my reservations is that the goal underlying the second spring dawning with Europe is not EU accession negotiations, but, as Emmanuel Macron has put it, a “strategic partnership” between Turkey and Europe. We are thus speaking of trading on a give and take basis, not uniting over the Copenhagen Criteria and shared democratic values.
Our return to the Copenhagen Criteria would call for a very serious democratization drive. And there is no sign of that coming.
This in fact was not what we wished for when the European Union process started years ago. We really wanted to be in the first division and bequeath a democracy to future generations.
The battle between the ignorant and the sensible in the state: What makes rapprochement with Europe possible is the remainder of a few people within the state machinery who think sensibly and wish to grab the opportunity to normalize Turkey and prevent it from breaking off with the West.
However, do not forget that hawks bent on breaking Turkey away from the world have also amassed inside the state opposite the sensible crowd. These individuals are intent, just as in the 90’s, on preserving their fiefdoms by resorting to constantly circulated security-based theses, spouting on about the “permanence of the state” and “fighting terrorism.” Were a Baath regime to be created in Turkey, they would not be bothered. They have no other vision apart from going to and from work every day in their official cars. Certain symbolic steps need to be taken for Turkey to move closer to Europe in a real sense. But, the ignorant crowd perceives this as a threat to them. We do not unfortunately yet know who will win this tussle.
Europe is not about to distribute largesse! Yet another problem is the vastly heightened nature of expectations over rapprochement with Europe. Undoubtedly, Germany and the other European countries are not on the same page as Trump in their conception of the world and want to create an alternative world. They do not want Turkey to go bust, either.
However, Europe has neither the strength nor the know-how to shield itself from the economic crisis in Turkey. It is not in a position to shower money on Turkey and does not even have an institutional mechanism that it could use in a real sense to this end. Be it China or be it Germany, all countries that are considering giving financial aid to Turkey will at the least call for a return to a rules-based order. Nobody will accept economic management with corner-shop accounting and will not want to pour money into a black hole. This means a return to policies that are known as “orthodox” in economic programmes and that Mehmet Şimşek defended for years. For this to happen, Europe will call for an IMF or IMF-like standby agreement under which rules and institutions will be reinstated.
Those governing Turkey are not yet ready for this thought.