Turkey and the EU: Divergent Forever?
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Alexander Rahr

Research Director, German-Russian Forum

Valdai Discussion Club

The EU’s foreign policy is aimed to promote liberal values, therefore in order to «teach a lesson» to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan the Europeans are ready to further exacerbate relations with Ankara, even to the detriment of themselves, says Valdai Club expert Alexander Rahr.

  The tension in relations between Germany and Turkey continues to grow. In early July, the Turkish authorities detained a German human rights activist Peter Steudtner, accusing him of terrorism propaganda. In response, Germany announced a radical change in policy towards Turkey. So, the concluded contracts for weapons supplies will be frozen, a ban will be introduced for the signing of new contracts, the conditions for loans granting and economic assistance will be revised. Moreover, on July 20 the German Foreign Ministry recommended all citizens of the country arriving in Turkey to register in diplomatic missions and warned that the consular protection is not guaranteed on the Turkish territory. The reasons and possible consequences of this aggravation are discussed in Alexander Rahr’s, scientific director of the German-Russian forum, interview with www.valdaiclub.com.

According to Rahr, the detention of German citizens on the territory of Turkey highlights the transition to more severe diplomatic relations between the two countries. «Erdogan probably believes that the European Union failed to support him a year ago, when a putsch was launched against him,» the expert said. «Erdogan suspects that other forces may be behind this putsch, possibly connected with the Western intelligence services. Therefore, he is nervous now, reacts toughly to the emergence of new opposition trends in his state. The most famous incident occurred with a German citizen, Die Welt journalist, who is still in jail for several months. He is of Turkish origin, and this shows that Erdogan will take the harshest measures against the so-called Turkish diaspora, which, as he suspects, plans some measures against him.»

Deniz Yücel, Die Welt correspondent, was arrested on February 14. Germany began to demand the release of the journalist, but he was prolonged in custody for another three months, which provoked a harsh reaction from Berlin.

Rahr believes that the Turkish authorities have finally refused the policy to join the European Union, which was conducted for the last several decades. «A terrible grievance played its role here: Turkey understands that it has been kept in the waiting room for more than fifty years,» he said. – «It was once promised to start negotiations on joining the European Union, but in fact Turkey did not move in this direction. And the European Union also does not promote Turkey. So now it is actually time for a divorce. It seems to me that Turkey no longer expects from the European Union the benefits that it has expected for the past fifty years.  And the European Union understands that Turkey does not renounce its Islamic values. The European Union does not want to accept such a country either. «

The tension between the two sides is deepened by the fact that the policy of the EU and, in particular, of Germany, is value-oriented, Rahr stressed. For the sake of liberal values promotion Europe can consciously accept greater aggravation of relations with Turkey, even to the detriment of itself. «Now Turkey is holding the border with Syria under lock and key. If it opens it, like two years ago, millions of migrants can again overflow Europe. Europe understands that Turkey can blackmail it. But at the same time, Europeans believe that values are paramount, so they are ready to take tough measures to «civilize» or to teach a good lesson for Erdogan, » Rahr said.

Nevertheless, the European Union and, in particular, Germany, remain the most important trade and economic partners of Turkey and the rupture of ties will be painful first of all for Ankara, especially concerning tourism.

«We must not forget that Turkey is a tourist country,» Rahr said. «For Russia it is oil and gas, for Turkey it is tourism. Erdogan can hardly reconcile with the situation when the Europeans, as it now happens in Germany, will urge their citizens not to go in Turkey on vacation. This is a big blow to the Turkish economy. Erdogan, of course, can survive, but the bitterness will be great. He will look for a replacement for tourists from Germany, from Europe, which, perhaps, will run out. For some time he will orient himself toward tourists from neighboring countries, including his northern neighbors. «

On this background we can expect greater political rapprochement of Ankara with other non-Western players — Russia, the Eurasian Economic Union, China. But, as to Russia, everything depends on how Moscow is ready for such rapprochement. «Russia, which now has difficult relationship with the European Union, would like to get such a strategic partner as Turkey,» Rahr said. «Not in order to attack the European Union together, but in order to defend themselves against pressure from the European Union. It seems to me that the more Erdogan will quarrel with the European Union, the more Europeans will push him away from them, the more he will seek association with Russia. But there are many complex issues in Russia-Turkey bilateral relations, including Syria, which are not so simply resolvable either.»

Valdai Discussion Club