Turkey’s relationship with EU

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In European capitals, negative or hostile attitudes toward Turkey have been legitimized on the basis of a regression in the quality of Turkish democracy and deterioration of its human rights record. Turkey’s foreign policy preferences or decisions have not been analysed within the geopolitical context of the country or its real political imperatives. Rather, there is a tendency that overemphasizes the role of identity — the Islamic identity in driving Turkish foreign policy. Most of Turkey’s foreign policy decisions that are arguably motivated by factors other than identity have been portrayed as Turkey’s search for a new geopolitical identity and positioning, which is implicitly or explicitly understood as Turkey turning away from its centuries-old European Western orientation. In such a reading, the multipolar nature of the Turkish foreign policy is being simply framed as a shift of axis for the country. The shift of axis has come to represent a shift of Turkey’s identity away from Europe and the West. This approach is problematic and reductionist.
On the other hand, if we put historical and ideological justifications/animosity to one side, the anti-Western sentiment that has risen in Turkey over recent years has been based on the perception that the West is continually carrying out operations against Turkey. Most Turks believe that the West (meaning the United States and NATO) had a hand in the failed coup attempt on July 15, 2016. This perception cuts across socio-political lines at the societal level. Turkish government circles regard the West and Europe as being free from compassion when it comes to the security challenges and threats it is facing from neighbouring Syria and Iraq, and in confronting the multiple terrorist groups within and outside of its borders. Western apathy toward Turkey or its inability to show solidarity with its people in the aftermath of coup attempt has only deepened public suspicion of the West. This has reduced the ability for Europe to have the moral high ground and credibility to criticize Turkey for its post-coup policies and purges — particularly in response to the ongoing state of emergency.
However, Turkish–Western relations cannot be confined to the debate on or dispute over the quality and health of Turkish democracy and secularism. They are the core ingredient for Turkey’s relations with the West, particularly with Europe, but apparently not sufficient factors to solve the underlying simmering tensions in these relations. Moreover, the political picture that has emerged recently has obscured the view of the fundamental factors that have tainted the state of Turkish–European relations.
AK Party’s first term in power, 2002–2007, can comfortably be depicted as one of the most reformist eras in the history of the Turkish Republic. This reformism was rewarded by the EU by starting the membership negotiations with Turkey in 2005.
The responsibility for the current state of Turkey-EU ties cannot be laid at the feet of any one party. In an age when the risk of conflict has risen in global politics, Turkey and the EU share a number of interests and approaches on a number of issues – most notably on the fight against radical terrorism, refugees, the Israeli-Palestinian question, ending the Syrian War and maintaining the Iran nuclear deal. One could add a shared desire to pursue balanced ties with Russia and ensure energy security to this list. Despite internal challenges, the EU remains the sole representative of the liberal democratic order and a balancing power at a time when the United States’ unilateralism has weakened the United Nations and NATO. Abandoning sentimentality and identifying and acting on areas of common interest could help Turkey and the EU reduces tensions and fosters a positive agenda. One can already count the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO), an initiative to develop common security in Europe that was signed by 25 countries which is open to others, as one area in which Turkish-EU cooperation can be developed. Maintaining its European anchor could help Turkey realize a number of much-desired comprehensive economic reforms, while also preventing extreme swings in foreign policy. Keeping the channels of dialogue between Ankara and Brussels would ensure the continuation of cultural interaction and might even help contribute to a democratic transformation in the long run.
From trade to NATO, the EU and Turkey have enjoyed a productive relationship in many domains. Turkey has been an associate member of the European Economic Community since 1963 and applied to join in 1987.  It was recognised as a candidate for EU membership in 1999, but negotiations didn’t start until 2005. Even after that not much progress was made. Only 16 out of 35 chapters have been opened and only one closed.
The EU usually asks for reforms to improve the human rights situation in the country as well as make its economy more robust. In turn the country might benefit from financial or technical assistance, as well as tariff-free access for some or all products. Both Turkey and most EU countries are members of NATO. In addition they work together on issues such as migration. In March 2016 the EU and Turkey concluded an agreement to tackle the migration crisis, which led to significantly fewer migrants reaching Europe illegally.

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