Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan threatened on Friday to unleash a new wave of migrants on Europe after lawmakers there voted for a temporary halt to Turkey's EU membership negotiations, but behind the fighting talk, neither side wants a collapse in ties.
Turkey first applied to participate in the European Community (EEC), the earlier incarnation of the EU, in July 1959, following Greece's application in the same year. It signed the Ankara Agreement in 1963 and applied for full membership in 1987. Turkey was officially accepted as an EU candidate country in 1999, and accession negotiations started in 2005.
This March, EU members agreed to speed up membership talks to coax Turkey to stem migrant flows into Europe. The agreement struck in March with Ankara, under which it helps control migration in return for the promise of accelerated EU membership talks and aid, has reduced the influx via Turkey to a trickle. But its neighbours are still struggling to cope.
However, Turkey's chance of joining the EU looks slimmer than ever after the failed coup attempt in July. European leaders are alarmed by Turkey's violations of basic freedoms, which have reached unprecedented levels. Turkey remains under a state of emergency after the coup. Thousands of military leaders, judges, academics, teachers, police, and journalists have been detained or suspended. President Erdogan has also said he would approve the return of death penalty, which was abolished in Turkey 2004 as Ankara sought EU accession. The EU has warned Turkey that reinstating the death penalty would end its membership prospects.
The EU Copenhagen Criteria demand democracy, full implementation of the rule of law, human rights, union rights, minority rights, gender equality, participation, and pluralism for Turkey. However, Erdogan is moving away from democratic principles.
Nevertheless, the vote by the European Parliament in favour of freezing Turkey's EU accession talks was non-binding and Germany, France and most other EU states back continued engagement, despite their concerns about Turkey's human rights record. But Turkey also needs Europe. The EU is Turkey's largest trading partner and its 11-year membership negotiations, though long stalled, served in their early years as an important anchor for pro-market reforms and investor confidence.
Turkey's EU ambitions are part of a larger debate over identity. Turkey's leaders typically wish to pursue a bandwagon strategy and to make their country member of the West, but the country's history, culture, and traditions are non-Western.
Turkey's people want democracy and EU membership. According to a newly released Pew Research Center 2015 poll, a majority in Turkey( 55%) want to become a member, while only 32 percent oppose joining the EU. But Turkey's strongman leader wants to join the ''one man rule club of Shangai Cooperation Organization.
Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan values the imperial past of his country more than the achievements of the Western modernity and Erdoğan, rules his country like a czar and a sultan. Mr. Erdoğan dreams himself back to the times of divine law as he rests in his palace of 1000 rooms. No normal head of government or religious leader could afford to do anything like that in this day and age. It is modern-day Caesaropapism – like a flashback from another time, with a touch of Hitlerian discourse: In Turkey, it is proclaimed that Mr. Erdoğan has boosted the economy and put the country on a path toward growth and prosperity. A statement reminiscent of the National Socialist’s employment miracle through highway construction.
Mr. Erdoğan dreams of restoring the Ottoman Empire. He feels a sense of patronage toward the countries now occupying the territory of the former Ottoman Empire. The departure from the traditional Turkish stance towards Israel serves to appeal to the wider Arab world, allowing him to be perceived as a political leader. Erdogan's political ambitions are detrimental to Turkey's EU membership ambitions.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
International Affairs Expert
Photo Credit: Turkish President, Tayyip Erdogan