The one and only reason why the EU ‘loves’ Erdogan

The one and only reason why the EU ‘loves’ Erdogan

NEWS24/7 covers the Turkish elections from Istanbul. Read the latest response from Kostas Koukoumakas.

Western leaders have many reasons to dislike Recep Tayyip Erdogan, but there is one that makes them ‘shake’ if the ‘sultan’ is defeated in the May 14 presidential election by opposition leader Kemal Kilicdaroglu.

During Erdogan’s 20-year rule, he imprisoned journalists and opposition figures, violently suppressed protests and mismanaged the economy. On the foreign policy front, he reconciled with Russia, launched an invasion of Syria and vetoed NATO to prevent Sweden from joining the alliance at a critical time.

But beyond all that, he is likely to be missed by the leaders of the European bloc, as Politico reports. With Erdogan in power, especially as he has been increasingly authoritarian in recent years, allowed the EU to dodge the question of whether Turkey should join its ranks.

For many European politicians, Erdogan was a useful political “map”, allowing the EU legally prohibit any serious discussion with Ankara regarding membership. A regime change could alter this dynamic.

What we have seen in recent years is that Turkey and the EU are moving in opposite directionssaid Selim Kuneralp, Turkey’s former ambassador to the European Union. “Turkey under Erdogan has moved away from European values. The accession process has completely stopped and therefore the idea of ​​Turkey becoming a member of the European Union is no longer a credible objective.“.

Difficult relationship

The history of EU-Turkey relations goes back more than 60 years. In 1959, Turkey applied to join the European Economic Community, the ancestor of the EU, which led to the signing of the Ankara Agreement in 1963.

While a series of coups and economic and political instability put the issue of Turkey-EU integration “on ice”, by the 1980s the accession process was back on track . In 1987, Turkey applied for membership of the EEC. A decade later, it achieved candidate country status and began to take significant steps to meet the EU membership criteria.

It was at this time that Erdogan came to power. The reformist leader of the new Justice and Development Party (AKP) then spoke of pluralism, democracy and harmony, even opening peace talks with the Kurdish PKK group.

He introduced reforms that brought Turkey closer to EU criteria, such as changing the laws surrounding the country’s military to bring it under political control. Although welcomed by the European Commission at the time, these changes actually set the stage for Erdogan to gain more control over the military later on.

After a brief honeymoon, relations with Brussels deteriorate. Erdogan grew increasingly frustrated with the pace of European integration. Several member states have made it clear that they do not want to accept Turkey into the bloc. This split set the tone for an increasingly contentious relationship.


A number of issues are responsible for the deterioration of the relationship, with both parties pointing fingers at each other.

The EU’s decision to accept Cyprus in 2004, it was a constant sticking point. After, there was the Sarkozy phenomenon. In 2011, the French president made a short five-hour visit to the Turkish capital. Nonchalantly chewing gum on his arrival in Ankara, his message was clear: France was fiercely opposed to Turkey’s EU membership.

On the other side of the relationship, it was Erdogan’s authoritarian turn which has minimized the country’s prospects for integration.

The violent crackdown on protests in Gezi Park in 2013 heralded an even more drastic response to the failed coup attempt in 2016. Erdogan jailed tens of thousands, then consolidated his power in a referendum constitutional in 2017.

In particular, its austerity has trashed the Copenhagen criteria – the conditions that any country wishing to join the EU must meet, and which include guarantees on the rule of law, human rights and the protection of minorities.

By 2018, EU leaders had had enough. A European Council statement that year made it clear: Turkey’s accession negotiations “are at a standstill”.

“Best Atmosphere”

The big question in EU-Turkey relations is whether that will change after the Turks go to the polls next Sunday.

These elections have become one of the greatest tests of his political career, with opinion polls showing him in a tug of war with Kilicdaroglu.

A change of government it will probably bring a “fresh air” to the cooperation between Turkey and the West. Kilicdaroglu said he wanted to restart the EU membership process and would urge Turkey to comply with the rulings of the European Court of Human Rights, another departure from Erdogan.

But the prospect of new leadership in Turkey may not eliminate many of the root causes of friction. “National challenges will remain the same, regardless of powersaid Gallia Lindenstrauss, senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies think tank. “There is a deep economic crisis and the current government is proposing all kinds of populist measures to alleviate the current crisis before the elections, which will stop after the elections“.

Washington has made little secret of its desire for a change of government in Turkey, an important member of NATO. In 2019, then-presidential candidate Joe Biden said the United States should support Turkey’s opposition leaders”confront and defeat Erdogan“. “He must pay a price [για τον αυταρχισμό του]the future US president said in an interview – comments that angered the Turkish government.

Lindenstrauss predicted a “better atmosphere” between Brussels and Ankara if Kilicdaroglu comes to power. The six-party opposition bloc has signaled it wants to restore ties with the EU and is set to roll back some of Erdogan’s measures that violated the Copenhagen criteria, such as returning to a parliamentary rather than presidential system.

But the underlying problems – notably Cyprus, but also the prospect of a huge and relatively poor population joining the bloc – will mean that few in Europe will find it difficult to open the door. Although few say it publicly, many countries are also reluctant to allow a predominantly Muslim country like Turkey to join.

There’s no way EU member states are about to consider Turkey’s EU membership‘, as a senior EU diplomat in Brussels put it.

new beginnings

Lindenstrauss said she could see progress on issues such as visa liberalization or updating the customs union between the EU and Turkey, which has existed since 1995.I agree with the skeptics that I think Turkey’s EU membership problems existed before Erdogan’s authoritarian turn“, he said.

İlke Toygür, senior researcher at the CSIS think tank, said modernizing the Association Agreement between the two sides was a way to revitalize relations. “Instead, EU policy makers should adopt a more appropriate institutional framework“, he said. He suggested that both sides could benefit from an association agreement like the one the EU has concluded with other countries that have started the accession process more recently.

A renewed agreement could cover issues such as climate action, migration and trade, and would improve relations with Brussels, paving the way for the most difficult question of membership.

Others are more skeptical and believe that not everyone in Europe will celebrate Erdogan’s defeat. “For some in the EU, it may be advantageous to have an authoritarian leader on their side and a more transactional relationship with Turkey, rather than taking membership seriously.said Galip Dalay, a Turkey expert at the Chatham House think tank.

A democratic Türkiye would be a much more fundamental issue for Europe“, he added.

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