According to Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, the key meeting of the EU foreign ministers in Malta a few days ago could be summarized in five words:
‘They have realized their mistakes.’
Was the whole fuss about this?
Çavuşoğlu was very self-confident in explaining what he meant after meeting some counterparts, after a long period of spats which included him and another Turkish minister having been deported de-facto from the EU soil before the Turkish referendum.
‘They started asking me how they can repair the relations with Turkey’ he told press. ‘And I told them openly what their mistakes were. If they want to continue their relations they have to approach us in a way freed from political obstacles. They have to see Turkey as an equal partner. I saw that they realized this mistake. Now there is a positive air. If they are not since, though, it can vanish soon.’
How Çavuşoğlu’s perception of reality is a question, unless, of course, he by these words has only the domestic audience in mind.
Malta meeting ended with two key messages on Turkey.
- The EU acknowledged that it sees referendum result as legitimate.
- The EU made clear that the ministers agreed that the accession talks with Turkey are not to be suspended.
It was, as reported by AP:
”The European Union is keeping the door ajar for Turkey to become a member, but says Ankara must provide clearer signals on whether it intends to meet the entrance criteria in such areas as human rights and rule of law. EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said that despite the doubts expressed by some foreign ministers during a meeting Friday, the EU for now favors continuing the protracted accession talks with Turkey.
“It is to them to express their willingness to continue to be a candidate country, to continue to be interested or not to join our family,” she said.
While some ministers are calling for sustained relations with a pillar of the NATO alliance and a major partner in controlling the flow of migrants into the EU from Syria and beyond, others are calling for change.
There are so many areas where we need a correct, friendly and productive cooperation that we have to see, together with our Turkish colleagues, how we can improve the situation,” EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn said.
At the end of the meeting, the EU put the membership ball in Erdogan’s court.
“The accession process continues. It is not suspended or ended, but as you might know, we are currently not working on opening any new negotiating chapter,” Mogherini said.
What do these messages mean?
Do they mean that the EU has ‘realized its mistakes’?
In plain English, they mean the following:
- By acknowledging the result of the referendum as legitimate, the EU showed hastiness, not waiting for the OSCE monitors’ final report on the irregularities in the Turkish vote. And, by this acknowledgment, it shows clearly that it takes a few steps back from Erdoğan. In short, the EU leaves him alone, by withdrawing its interests; letting him deal with the hardship and challenges in Turkey, as well as with NATO. Its message to him is: ‘We know of the troubles. We do acknowledge also that further row with you helps you gain strength to our disfavour, we are not in this game.
- By not coming to an agreement – as driven by Austria – that the accession talks are called to be suspended, the EU also sends a similar message to Erdoğan: we know that you want, for your personal political gains and survival, us to be the ones to throw in the towel. We shall not let you come in and win in the blame game, by doing what you expect us to do.
- We do know that you know that the memberships negotiations have been on life support more or less since the end of 2013, that no tangible progress has been noted. Ever since Gezi Park protests Turkey has marked a massive regress. But, we do not want to terminate the negotiations, because of some factors.
- Cyprus talks have stalled. Termination of talks with Turkey would spell badly for the momentum there. So, not suspending the negotiations will keep the dynamic of settlement, however tiny, alive.
- We are aware of the vibrant oppositional dynamic in Turkey, But we are also aware how ‘slippery’ and hypocritical the main opposition is: it is unable to pose an alternative to your power. Better wait. And, we need you where the staunch authoritarian exercise is needed. You have the control to keep the refugee influx down, or in blockage. You now with the emergency rule at hand have been ecercising travel bans and passport restrictions to stop also local dissidents and underdogs from Turkey to seek asylum in the EU. You are useful to us.
- You are also the perfect Turkish leader for many Turkoskeoptics in the EU – someone in his person symbolizes all the arguments that speak against the membership of Turkey. Half of Turkey rejects the EU norms, and you take sides with that half. We don’t approve of but fully understand your intolerance about being reminded of human rights and about democratic mindset, and together with the above, we are set to seek an alternative way to membership. We may come to terms with it by offering you something you can not refuse, namely a reform of Customs Union, enhanced free trade, a sui generis format of privileged partnership, which will liberate you, your party, your loyal supporters and, yes, us, from monitoring your administration on Copenhagen Criteria. Let us work on a new path.
These hidden messages show clearly that the EU ‘understands’, not its mistakes, but the new conditions that arose under Erdoğan, and chooses utility before values. This will be debated, but it is now the reality.
Çavuşoğlu – or anyone else – from the AKP may continue to try to sell the version that the EU realized its mistakes, but the fact is also that the EU also realized that as long as such profiles as Çavuşoğlu sit at Turkish cabinets they themselves will never realize.
The bitter truth, after Malta meeting, is clearer:
Turkey is now seen as a Central Asian republic, and will be treated as such. It will be handled with care, true; but also from a ‘distance’. At best – and that’s an optimistic assessment – its relations will look like Israeli – EU relations.
The worst part is, Turkey’s vibrant, hopeful, resistant civil society will continue to suffer.
As the EU watches.