The Turkey-EU relationship has been tenuous in recent years, with numerous events that have culminated into what could be described as the eventual decline in relations between the two. This article will briefly touch upon the events that have occurred, as well as the potential future foreign policy of Turkey with regards to its accession into the European Union.
Turkish acceptance into the Union has been a topic of discussion for a number of years. In fact, as early as 1963, Turkey signed the Association Agreement with the European Commission and its application for membership into the EU was submitted in 1987. These two agreements are what enabled the EU to exert a significant amount of influence on Turkey, acting also as one of the main driving forces for country’s rapid democratization process in the 90s. It is also interesting to note that Turkey has been deemed a model for other Muslim states attempting to democratize, as a result of its fast-paced democratic development.
These reforms seem to have paid off in 1999, when Turkey finally started to be considered a candidate for EU membership; and subsequent negotiations began in 2005. This is one rather clear example of the way in which the EU exports important notions of democracy to other states, particularly its preference for liberalism, which has been prevalent in European tradition since the end of World War II. Having said that, however, as ideal as the Turkish democratization process sounds, it was not, by any stretch of the imagination, smooth sailing or successful. Since 1960, approximately 9 coups d’état were orchestrated, indicating a sense of instability and a lack of cohesion between the government and the military that is still evident to this day.
The attempted coup d’état in 2016, along with the subsequent imprisonment and dismissal of thousands of individuals caused what some deemed to be an irreparable rift in the relationship between the European Union and Turkey. This incident has been a topic of debate in numerous fields of study and is definitely a tipping point in terms of the accession talks. It was also accompanied by the wider implication of authoritarianism. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has been accused of several deplorable acts – from attempting to garner an increased amount of presidential power to the oppression of the fundamental right of freedom of speech in order to stifle any potential opposition. This has been done mainly through the imprisonment of anti-regime journalists. According to The Guardian, in December 2016 an estimated 81 journalists were imprisoned in Turkey – a record since the 1990s – although the exact number is difficult to pin down.
Members of the European Parliament have been critical of Erdogan’s choices in past years. They have spoken out against the human rights violations reported in the country. The Union as a whole has also issued numerous ultimatums with regards to Turkey reintroducing the death penalty, with Brussels stating that all accession talks will freeze should this come into effect.
Although a discussion on all the domestic issues plaguing Turkey’s potential accession into the EU is unrealistic, it is already rather evident that since 2016, the country has entered a tumultuous period in its history. We are entering an era in which the relations between the two players are dire, but not yet extinguished, thus making it nigh impossible to predict what could happen in 2018. MEPs are still willing to negotiate with Turkey, provided that President Erdogan upholds his end of the deal and listens to Brussels’ demands. However, this in itself highlights the underlying problem when dealing with what appears to be a one-man government that slowly seems to be developing into a personality cult. His actions are unpredictable, almost sporadic, and only benefit a small group of people directly linked to the President himself.