The refugee crisis made it possible: out of the blue, Turkey's reputation in the EU has received a boost. Support from Ankara, however, has a price, and not just a financial one. Daniel Heinrich reports from Istanbul.
Of late, Jean-Claude Juncker has been addressing the Turkish president as "Dostum" - my brother. When Erdogan visited the president of the EU Commission in Brussels at the beginning of October, the relationship between the two politicians displayed at their joint press conference was markedly cordial.
Turkish opposition MP Yusuf Halacoglu believes that Juncker's chummy behavior is merely the result of calculated and pragmatic political considerations: "The European Union only wants to use Turkey as a buffer state that is to intercept all the refugees who want to travel on to Europe," the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) politician told DW.
Even now, Turkey plays a major part in coping with the refugee crisis. In total, more than 2 million Syrians have found shelter from mayhem and civil war there.
Turkey to be involved more fully
Apart from Juncker, it is primarily the German chancellor who wants to involve Turkey more fully. At the end of October, Angela Merkel made a trip to Istanbul to specifically deliver this message. For Gareth Jenkins, a Turkey expert at the Institute for Security and Development Policy in Istanbul, Merkel's aim was clear: "(She) wants to keep as many refugees as possible outside the EU (and within Turkey) for the foreseeable future," Jenkins told DW. One thing, however, became quickly evident during the Bosporus talks: support from Ankara will not come cheap for its "European friends." It requested the EU to provide it with 3 billion euros ($3.3 billion).
Turkey expert Gareth Jenkins affirms that the EU has made big concessions in its attempts to establish a rapprochement: "The EU has been trying to play down its criticism of Erdogan and the AKP – including postponing what was expected to be a very critical Progress Report until after the November 1 general election."
Turkey's EU accession unwanted
In addition, Turkey insists on the EU introducing visa liberalization for its citizens, something it has been demanding for a long time. Even the opening of new negotiation chapters within the EU accession process has now been mentioned. This step, however, which has been criticized predominantly by conservative circles in Germany, appears to have more of a symbolic nature.
Gareth Jenkins' take: "(Neither) Erdogan (nor) the AKP have any interest in EU accession. They are still intoxicated by delusions of being able to transform the Middle East into a neo-Ottoman sphere of influence. This isn't going to happen either."
In Turkey, the lack of interest in EU accession is not restricted only to the AKP. According to Yusuf Halacoglu, "the European Union has accomplished a great deal with respect to peace in Europe," but for Turkey the EU of today was important merely "as an economic benchmark." For him, Turkey's accession to the EU is not an option.
Samuel Vesterbye, a spokesperson for the "Young Friends of Turkey" NGO based in Brussels, claims that the EU is to blame, in part, for the deadlock in negotiations. "The problem has not been caused solely by the AKP," Vesterbye told DW: "Without a serious commitment to drive accession negotiations forward, there will never be a genuine result. And that is exactly what the EU has denied Turkey so far."
EU squanders trust
Developing trust in EU institutions was a difficult task for many Turks even prior to the refugee crisis. According to a survey conducted by the Eurobarometer polling institute in August 2015, 40 percent of Turkey's residents believe that their country's EU accession would be "bad."
According to Gareth Jenkins, the EU's approach to the refugee crisis has done considerable damage to its reputation: "This has reinforced the impression amongst many on both sides of the political divide in Turkey that the EU's claimed adherence to principles such as human rights and democratic values are just a smokescreen and that, when it suits its purposes, the EU is ready to abandon the population even of an EU candidate country to an increasingly lawless and authoritarian regime."
Opposition politician Yusuf Halacoglu breaks his stance down to a simple formula, linking his disapproval of Europe to one single person: "To me, Europe is Germany, and Germany is Merkel." And Merkel, Halacoglu says as a farewell, "is someone I don't trust."