The West Must Learn to Say No to Turkey

Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu (David Mdzinarishvili/Reuters)
Having failed to live up to its agreement with the EU, it’s in no position to issue demands.

Under its agreement with the European Union, Turkey promises to take back all illegal immigrants who have made their way to Greece. In return, Turkey will receive financial aid from the EU, and talks on EU membership for Turkey will be accelerated. The EU has agreed to take in and resettle Syrian refugees directly from camps in Turkey. The EU–Turkish agreement, signed March 18, also makes it easier for Turks to obtain EU visas; that provision would have became effective on June 1 had Turkey met 72 benchmarks stipulated in the agreement. The benchmarks apply only to Turkey’s enjoyment of EU-visa liberalization.

Although Ankara has not met all of them, Turkish foreign minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, in a recent interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, has demanded that the EU abolish the visa requirement for Turkish citizens by October of this year. He warned that Turkey was prepared to withdraw from the whole agreement.

“If visa liberalization does not follow, we will be forced to back away from the deal on taking back [refugees] and from the agreement of 18 March,” Cavusoglu said, adding that “it could be the beginning or middle of October – but we are waiting for a firm date.” It was the first time that a Turkish official set even a general deadline for the country’s demands to be met.

Understandably, his audacious statement met with strong indignation in Europe, where German vice chancellor Sigmar Gabriel has emphasized that “Germany and Europe should under no circumstances be blackmailed” by Ankara. “We’re not haggling over the 72 conditions in a Turkish bazaar,” said Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, the general secretary of Angela Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, the conservative Christian Social Union (CSU). Together with Baden-Württemberg governor Winfried Kretschmann of the Green party, Seehofer is demanding that the accession talks between the EU and Turkey be suspended, noting that “visa-free travel for Turkey is completely ruled out in the current situation. The EU needs to make that clear now.”

RELATED: Turkey’s Coup Attempt has Played Straight into Erdogan’s Hands

Although Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, told Brussels’s ARD-Europastudio that “he doesn’t think it would be helpful if we would unilaterally tell Turkey that the negotiations are over,” Austrian chancellor Christian Kern agreed with German-government officials, telling Die Presse that “we know that Turkey’s democratic standards are far from sufficient to justify accession.” Kern added that at the EU summit on September 16 he would address the matter of membership talks. In an interview with the public broadcaster ORF, he called negotiations with Turkey a “diplomatic fiction.”

Kern’s view was corroborated by Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz. “I reject the ultimatum by Mevlut Cavusoglu,” Kurz tweeted earlier this month. “The EU must not become dependent and must protect its external borders.”

#share#It is worth noting that it is not only politicians who are questioning the future of the EU–Turkish agreement. Most German citizens think it’s a bad idea. They don’t see Turkey as a trusted partner or potential member state of the EU.

Fifty-six percent of Germans see the deal as “rather bad,” as opposed to 39 percent who think it’s “rather good,” according to a poll (of 1,005 respondents) conducted April 4–5 and published by ARD-Deutschlandtrend. Forty-one percent think that the number of refugees arriving in Germany will not decrease, and 14 percent think that the number will rise.

Sixty-eight percent say “No” to Turkey’s accession to the EU, and 79 percent say that Ankara cannot be trusted. Germans were found to consider France, the U.K., the U.S., Greece, and Russia more trustworthy.

RELATED: How Erdogan Is Rolling the Dice, and How/Why America Must Check Him

Germans are obviously skeptical toward Turkey, especially since the failed coup attempt on July 15. In its wake, the authoritarian government of President Recep Erdogan launched a severe crackdown on the military. That move has sparked international concern, and Greek authorities report an increase in the arrival of migrants and refugees from Turkey.

Bulgaria, too, complains that the wave of illegal immigrants from Turkey is rising. Prime Minister Boyko Borisov says that in the past few days Bulgarian police have detained an average of 200 migrants daily. “The situation at the border is much more dramatic,” 

In May, the German newspaper Bild reported that the Bulgarian government planned to extend its fences along the border with Turkey and Greece, to prevent a further influx of illegal migrants. Recently Bulgaria asked the EU-sponsored Frontex Agency for help in protecting the border with Turkey.

#related#Ankara’s post-coup crackdown is strongly supported by the Turkish community in Germany, home to the largest Turkish diaspora. That, added to Turkey’s recent anti-terrorism legislation, is leading Europeans and EU leaders to call into question whether the EU should rescind its proposals to grant easy visas to all Turks and to admit Turkey into the union. Johannes Hahn, the European commissioner for enlargement, echoing the sentiment of leaders of national governments across the European Union, says he wants to give those plans a second thought.

Turkey, for its part, is not missing any chance to demonstrate its arrogance to Europe. “The democratic awareness of the Turkish nation and our citizens is a thousand times more powerful and superior to the racist and discriminatory West,” Justice Minister Bekir Bozdag, for example, recently boasted. “In the end, we will teach them democracy.”

Western leaders, especially in Europe, would be well advised to reassess their relationship with Turkey and to recall Machiavelli’s timeless wisdom about “the friendships that we buy with a price.” We may earn them fairly, but they will “fail us when we have occasion to use them.”


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