Turkey is reaching out to Europe again in an effort to overcome its economic woes resulting from the punitive pressures Washington is applying to Ankara over the Brunson affair.
We see that Europe also wants to improve ties with Turkey, which have been deteriorating badly over the past few years.
European leaders, starting from Germany’s Angela Merkel, are underlining the fact that a politically and economically stable Turkey is vital for Europe. This is not simply because of a new found love for Turkey, of course.
Europe continues to have a stake in Turkey for a number of important reasons. These stretch from the need to cooperate against illegal immigration to ensuring that European banks owed vast amounts of money by Turkish banks and companies do not suffer the effects of the downturn in the Turkish economy.
There is also the strategic need on the part of Europe to ensure that Turkey, with its highly strategic place on the map, does not drift into Russia’s orbit.
All of this remains within Merkel’s formula of “keeping Turkey anchored to Europe,” come what may, which she put forward years ago. What this newfound love does not promise Turkey, however, is the reactivation of its EU membership talks.
Looking, however, at what Turkish government officials are saying, especially after the recent meeting of the Reform Action Group which convened after a gap of three years, that is precisely what Ankara expects.
This is why the government took exception to French President Emmanuel Macron’s suggestion that Turkey be offered a “special partnership status” with Europe, rather than full membership, because it is no longer the westward looking country of its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, but a pan-Islamist and anti-European country under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Ankara may have been angered by these remarks, saying that it is a European country and will settle for nothing less than full EU membership, but there is ample evidence on record showing the anti-western orientation of Turkey under its present administration.
There is also a major question that hangs in the air waiting an answer from the Turkish government. How does it plan to reactivate its EU membership bid under the negative conditions that prevail in this country with regard to democracy, human rights, the rule of law, and freedom of expression?
The ministers for foreign affairs, justice, the interior, and the treasury and finance declared after the meeting of the Reform Action Group that Ankara will be enacting reforms in the coming period that will bring it closer to Europe.
There is no indication, though, that it is going to take the major steps required to reactivate its EU membership bid.
As a western diplomat underlined in a private conversation recently, there is the need to enact serious democratic reforms in order to breathe new life into this bid.
The problem, however, as the diplomat put it, is that the reforms necessary for this would automatically undermine President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grip on power, by increasing judicial and parliamentary controls over the power of the executive.
There is no indication whatsoever that the current administration is prepared to let this happen. To the contrary it is trying to consolidate the powers of the executive presidency, which is already subject to few checks and balances.
This is why the rediscovered affection by Ankara for its EU perspective lacks sincerity, and has to be taken with a big pinch of salt.
It nevertheless has to be noted that in its time of need Ankara has had to turn to Europe again.
This also amounts to an indirect acknowledgement of the fact that the so called “strategic partnerships” it is trying to develop with Russia, and other non-European powers, have their limits when the chips are really down.
Even that much is something of a “beggar’s consolation” for Turks who do not want to see their country drift away from its traditional western orientation towards uncharted waters.