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  • Rory O'Keeffe

Turkey and the EU: a deal in danger

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, on a state visit to Poland asks the EU to state clearly whether it wants Turkey to be a member of the EU, or not.

He said: ‘I would like to hear a clear declaration. If you want to accept Turkey, just do it. If you don't want to, just tell that.’

It’s worth noting that Erdogan certainly did want Turkey to join the EU, and may still do. He made its entry a central point of his political popularity, promising to enter, to the extent that despite his Justice and Development Party being a right-wing, increasingly religiously-focussed political organisation, its support would genuinely largely describe itself as a pro-EU electorate.

However, this statement is also deliberately disingenuous. Because Erdogan knows that the reason Turkey has never been able to join the EU is not ‘because it is Turkey’, but because Turkey has never come close to meeting the EU’s membership requirements.

He is also aware that his reference to German politicians as ‘Nazis’, along with his attacks on human rights, and the arbitrary arrests, in the 15 months since the failed coup of 15 July 2016, as well as his continually-stated desire to hold a referendum on bringing back the death penalty in Turkey, have forced Turkey even further from the EU and being allowed to join.

But because of the previously-stated political situation which Erdogan helped to build, and within which he is currently bound, he cannot simply ‘walk away’.

Instead, he is attempting to create a way out by continually stating that the EU is ‘against Turkey’ (which is easiest for him to do in Turkey, where his government largely controls the media, through the arrest and threat of arrest of journalists, and the closure and threat of closure of media outlets, if not always through active support from the media for him and his policies) and making statements outside Turkey which strongly imply that the ‘fault’ for Turkey’s failure to join lies not with Turkey, or more to the point with him and his policies, but with the EU.

To be clear, whatever one thinks about the EU (and there are some negatives along with the positives, and if I may my own view is that the idea of the EU {including bringing its members together politically and socially} is better than its current iteration, though this also means that the EU should exist and be strengthened while it is modified, rather than being continually kicked until it falls to pieces), it would be a dereliction of my duty to you if I were not to point out clearly that the reason Turkey is not yet a member of the EU is not due to the latter’s racism or hatred of Turkey. It is because Turkey has simply never met the EU’s criteria for entry.

And it is further away from meeting those criteria than at any point in the last 20 years.

Polish President Andrzej Duda said: ‘Poland has supported and supports today Turkey's efforts to join the European Union. Turkey is an especially important EU partner in the area of security.’

Turkey hosts more than three million Syrian refugees, and more than one million from Iraq and Afghanistan. Duda’s government has refused to accept any refugees under the EU’s relocation programme.

But the issue is further complicated by the EU/Turkey Deal - a profoundly immoral agreement under which the EU promised to pay Turkey in exchange for the latter preventing refugees entering Europe.

The EU, on signing the EU/Turkey Deal, promised Turkey that it would reduce visa regulations for Turkish citizens hoping to enter the EU, by June 2016. There are many reasons why this has not yet been done, but this was by far the single most important part of the deal from a Turkish perspective.

As noted, there are reasons why this has not yet happened. However, the EU also promised that it would give Turkey €6bn to help with the refugees in Turkey, who are no longer allowed to leave under the tenets of the (immoral) deal.

This was supposed to mean that €2bn would be handed over by the EU in the year April 2016-2017; €2bn in the year April 2017-2018; and €2bn in the year April 2018-2019.

So far, the EU has allocated (not actually yet handed over) €885m.

That is, 18 months into a three-year deal – almost exactly half-way – the EU has allocated just one sixth of the money it promised to Turkey, and actually handed over even less.

Less than half of the money for April 2016-2017 has been allocated, and yet we are now half-way through the next year.

Though the visa deregulation (which has also not yet happened) was always Turkey’s priority under the terms of the deal (which is why it was included despite the fact that it has nothing whatsoever to do with refugees), the failure of the EU even to hand over the money it promised has not gone unnoticed in Turkey, and leaves the EU wide open to accusations of failing to honour its own deals, and of neglecting the needs of refugees.

We must all be aware that the Syrian civil war and conflict and terror in Iraq and Afghanistan show no likelihood of ending soon, and there are already more than three million Syrian, and more than one million Iraqi and Afghan refugees in Turkey.

When the Deal ends – and it will end in April 2019, even if Turkey decides it wants to operate with a political bloc which does not deliver on any of its promises until then – it is not unlikely that Turkey will refuse to enter another, citing the EU’s mendacity as part of the reason. Despite Turkey’s many faults, it would be hard to entirely disagree with it on this.

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