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Turkey warms to EU again

Teri Schultz
May 12, 2017

Germany's move to grant political asylum to purged Turkish military officers complicates Ankara's effort to join the EU. But Turkey's minister for the bloc maintains there's "no question" of cutting ties with Brussels.

Duisburg Moschee DITIB
Image: Imago/Reichwein

Signals being sent back and forth between Brussels and Ankara are murky and mixed. This month alone, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has alternately threatened to call off his country's accession process with the European Union and sent out his relevant minister to declare that membership will go ahead no matter what.

Faced with harsh EU criticism for his referendum consolidating power in the office of the presidency, Erdogan announced he might also call a "Brexit-like" referendum on whether his citizens even want to continue to pursue EU membership. 

And now after meeting top EU officials, Turkish Minister for the EU Ömer Celik says Ankara will "seek to move forward within the context of full EU membership. There is no question of our cutting ties with the EU.”

 Power grab turns EU off

A day after Celik's unequivocal reiteration of Turkey's EU aspirations, a meeting at the European Parliament designed to discuss ways to "re-energize" the EU-Turkey relationship was short on initiatives. 

Dutch European Parliamentarian Marietje Schaake expressed disappointment in the situation, saying the EU had given up much of its leverage with Turkey when it signed the migration deal last year in which Ankara agreed to block migrants and refugees in exchange for money, eventual visa-free travel and a speeding up of the country's accession negotiations. "The EU chose the migration agreement and silence on human rights and rule of law," she told a panel of Turkey's EU ambassador, Turkish academics and a room full largely of staffers and other EP personnel.

Chilly relations - accession freeze?

Fellow MEP Eugen Freund of Austria says talks should be put on hold on the grounds that Turkey could never qualify as an aspirant under its current circumstances, due to a government that "tramples on human rights, that makes a mockery of the rule of law, that curtails the freedom of the media and of speech." Freund asserted the Turkey of today would never be asked to join, but "Turkey has such an important strategic position that we cannot afford to break up all talks - although I think accession talks make no sense under the present circumstances."

Turkish Professor Adil Ilter Turan says he sees both sides' view.  He said Erdogan's post-coup crackdown is driven by the president's sense that there are "sleeper cells" of what he considers "terrorism" everywhere - supporters of his nemesis, US-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. At the same time, Turan said, where there are valid threats and "you have to deal with them within the rule of law and this is not happening all the time."

He especially criticized the government treatment of journalists.  Asked why he himself remained out of prison when so many academics had been condemned, Turan said he's careful in the way he approaches Erdogan's current path. He also urged those outside the country to take more care to separate cricitsm of the government and criticism of the Turkish people. "What we need is not contestation but cooperation," he urged

Purged officers protected in Germany - Belgium next?.

Turan does not, however, have any sympathy for those Turkish officials previously posted at NATO missions abroad who were accused of taking part in the failed July coup. He told DW there was Gulenist influence deep into both the judiciary and the military, noting that no one felt there was anything wrong with that until the president's relatively recent fallout with his former ally in 2013.

The professor shrugged when asked about Germany's decision this week to grant political asylum to many of those former Turkish officials. He believes they are probably guilty of supporting the anti-Erdogan coup at some level but that the German government had good reason to give them shelter, since it would be difficult to get a fair trial with a decimated judiciary.

The Turkish government accuses Germany of having "disregarded the democratic principles and values as well as the requirements of being an ally," calling on Berlin in a statement to reconsider its decision.

The officers with which DW is in contact reject all ties to Gulen and the coup. They've been waiting, stateless, for months for asylum decisions by the Belgian government. The German decision has been met in the community with great relief, one of the officers told DW, and hope that Brussels will follow Berlin's example in giving them safety and security in the messy political web between Brussels and Ankara.