Is the path of relations between the European Union and Turkey uncertain after Erdoğan’s re-election?

By Lunyka Adelina Pertiwi

Recep Tayyip Erdoğan remains at the helm for the next five years, imprinting a 25-year legacy for his political coalition and stronghold. Opposition candidate Kemal Kilicdaroglu failed to topple the lifelong dictator because he lacked the support of the Turkish diaspora in Europe and was unable to overcome internal rivalries within the opposition and disagreements over the country’s crucial issues. Many experts believe that the election results in Turkey have dashed the long expectations of pro-liberal groups and the West for an “end to the Erdogan regime” and an accelerated integration process.

On the other hand, the integration process with the European Union (EU) now appears to be secondary for Turkey. As Turkey remains vulnerable to the devaluation of the lira, inflation, high employment rates, financial uncertainty, and the macroeconomic deficit, Turkey will focus on the domestic economic reconstruction agenda. Consequently, Turkey’s efforts to build the rule of law, democracy, and respect for human rights will become increasingly questionable. As the EU is a key anchor for this agenda, Turkey is likely to maximize its transactional diplomacy to reopen dialog on trade and finance with the EU via the “migration “card””. Despite its high acceptance of refugees from the Middle East, Turkey can also open its borders at any time to flood Europe with the refugee influx. Many see this as a weapon for Turkey to force the EU to extend the migration agreement, increase funding for humanitarian aid to refugees housed in Turkey, reduce visa restrictions, and improve the customs union and trade and investment agreements between the EU and Turkey.

However, the complex relations between the EU and Turkey are not limited to these areas. They also extend to the issue of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which brings disappointments for the EU. Relations between Turkey and Russia have traditionally been both competitive and cooperative. They are competitive when either state is included and approached by the West, and cooperative when both are excluded by the West. Yet while the conflict between Ukraine and Russia continues, Turkey refuses to impose sanctions on Russia, even as it simultaneously sends Bayraktar TB-2 drones to Ukraine and supports modernization of the Ukrainian military. This policy by Turkey clearly disappoints the EU and raises questions about Turkey’s exact stance toward Russia’s illegitimate behavior in Ukraine. It is believed that Turkey’s ambiguity is an attempt to avoid angering Russia so that Ankara can attract Russian investment and cheap products that are not allowed to enter the EU, but also because Ankara steadfastly supports Ukraine’s sovereignty.

Moreover, Turkey’s plan to become energy hub for supplying the European region with Russian oil and gas has raised fears in the EU that Turkey will use this as a cover for mixing energy products from other sources. Through this plan, it is not impossible for Turkey to monopolize the gas and oil supply route that would be better shared by the Nord Stream 2 route. This scenario also gives Turkey another “card” to put pressure on the EU in certain areas of finance and trade.

Regardless of these complexities, Turkey still seems to hope that relations with the EU will not be strained further, although this does not necessarily mean that Turkey is ready to become a member of the EU as soon as possible. Turkey has its own belief system: “Turkey will integrate into the EU in its own way and at its own pace.” The EU on the other hand, seems merely frustrated by the slow progress in Turkish domestic politics and Ankara’s dubious commitment to European values.

To say that the EU will pursue a pragmatic policy toward Turkey or that EU-Turkey relations will become more uncertain is therefore perhaps too clichéd. The EU only needs to address the discrepancy with Turkey by properly revitalizing its strategies.

The EU is expected to strengthen a clear bidirectional policy to position Turkey as a strategic partner and a candidate member state. Turkey’s importance and prospects for European integration will be redefined. By positioning Turkey as a strategic partner, the EU will allow Turkey to play a role as a balancing force in the Black Sea vis-à-vis Russia and as a peace broker for potential disputes in the Black Sea between Ukraine and Russia (such as Turkey’s role in the grain trade). As Emmanuel Macron proposes an EU strategic autonomyinitiative, meaning that the EU should reduce its dependence on the United States for military and defense capabilities and economic development and act independently to (re)build relations with Russia and China, Brussels may need Ankara to bridge the gap in communication and exchange of arguments between this democratic European institution and such non-liberal authorities.

On the other hand, by keeping seeing Turkey as a prospective member state, it can put aside its view of Turkey as “the other”, as it will not be easy for Turkey to change its internal values in a short period of time amid polarization in international politics and economic uncertainty. The EU should support and review the accountability of the democratic system and the commitment to human rights in Turkey more intensively and sustainably, and use systematic persuasion and socialization as well as substantial incentives in partnership agreements.

Ultimately, it is not impossible that EU-Turkey relations will improve.

Lunyka Adelina Pertiwi is a PhD Candidate in Political Science at Institute of Political Science, Eberhard Karl University of Tübingen, Germany. She is awarded Promotionsstipendium-Landesgraduiertenförderung (State Graduate Funding) of University of Tübingen for her PhD. Her research interests include European Union, Russia, Asia-Pacific region, political and security issues, and foreign policy.

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Foreign Policy News is a self-financed initiative providing a venue and forum for political analysts and experts to disseminate analysis of major political and business-related events in the world, shed light on particulars of U.S. foreign policy from the perspective of foreign media and present alternative overview on current events affecting the international relations.

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