Member and neighbour States / Politics

Erdogan’s ultimatum

2023. This is the year Turkey will be an EU member… or not, as Recep Tayyip Erdogan expressed, during his latest official visit in Berlin, on the 31st of October. 

The Turkish Prime minister did not choose this date randomly. 2023 will mark the centennial of the foundation of the Modern Turkey by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. This is very symbolic year for the Turkish people and the head of government wants to celebrate the event with or without the European Union.

Started in October 2005, the negotiations keep on slowly, as some EU Members – e.g. France and Germany – block some strategic chapters such as the free movement of goods and workers, the economic and monetary policy and the foreign, security and defence policy. The EU did not officially reacted to Erdogan’s ultimatum, expressing a real embarrassment as clearly highlighted by Joost Lagendijk, former Dutch MEP and Turkey expert in a column published yesterday in “Today’s Zaman”, an English speaking daily. For the former ecologist representative, the absence of reaction of the EU authorities proves a real uneasiness but also some carefulness, some people reminding the botched adhesion process of Romania and Bulgaria in 2007.

With an ultimatum, Ankara wants both to place the EU with its back to the wall and to show its exasperation. Indeed, Turkey has the impression of having been winded up for several years and that the EU does not seem ready to be frank with it. Optimistic and enthusiastic for a while, Turkish people have now the feeling to be cheated by a Europe that does not want them but has not the courage to tell them clearly. Since 2005, all the excuses are used to slow the Turkish accession process, some countries evocating the Cyprus issue, Human Rights and the borders issue… the Turkish authorities seem to have become convinced by the lack of commitment of the EU and its members to continue the process and some people in the EU even hope an end of the negotiations in the coming years, with Ankara slamming the door finally.

Nonetheless, by setting a deadline, Turkey hopes to revive its accession process to EU, all the more as the international context is favourable to the country because of the Syrian issue. It is a way to force the EU and its Member States to face their responsibilities and get concrete results at last. What is more, a revival with a predefined agenda would have a major effect on Turkey, which seems to pause in its reforms and whose public opinion seems less and less Europhile as the prospect of accession is going away and the negotiations are ever slower.

So, it will mostly depend on the EU and its Member States and on their capacity to reply to Erdogan’s ultimatum. According to Joost Lagendjik, this is a genuine occasion (missed for the moment, nonetheless) to continue the negotiations on new bases and to target new realistic objectives. For Turkey, the challenge is to prove its will to join the EU by realising important reforms, while also extending pressure on Europe. As the ex-MEP explained, the 2023 objective enables to focus on a deadline and should help to bring the ambiguous position of the EU, which exasperates Turkey, to an end, and might unlock a bogged down situation that nobody appreciates.

Gilles Johnson

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