It has been 22 years since Turkey became a candidate nation for accession to the European Union.
It has been a rocky road and ultimately unsuccessful. In 2018, negotiations froze on what the EU called Turkey’s backtracking on democracy, the rule of law and fundamental rights under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
In reality, the negotiations had been frozen long before. The EU wants Ankara to accept the reunification of the divided island of Cyprus. Turkey has refused to consider anything other than a two-state solution for the island.
Even if Cyprus were not a red line for several European states, including Italy and France, not to mention Greece, there are a number of other seemingly intractable issues between Turkey and the European Union, most recently about refugees.
Turkey is home to four million Syrian refugees and many more from elsewhere who want to reach Europe through its maritime border with Greece and Bulgaria. In 2016, the EU agreed to pay Turkey 6 billion euros to prevent Syrian refugees from crossing into Greece from Turkey.
Five years later, that money has run out, yet millions of refugees still live in Turkey and want to cross into Europe. Often when the EU has a dispute with Ankara, a weekly occurrence, apparently recently, Erdogan threatens to stop preventing refugees from heading to Europe.
The Turkish president has shown time and again that he is willing to play tough on the issue, even publicly encouraging migrants and refugees to try to access the EU through Greece.
Last year, Ankara enraged Cyprus over offshore drilling in its waters, prompting fears of a military confrontation between old enemies, Turkey and Greece.
At times, it seems that Erdogan was simply controlling Europe with his policy changes and proclamations. On March 19, the EU announced a productive video conference between Erdogan, the President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, and the President of the Council, Charles Michel.
In a statement, the EU side underlined the importance of a sustained reduction and further strengthening of confidence-building to enable a more positive EU-Turkey agenda.
Just two days later, Erdogan announced that he would remove Turkey from the Istanbul Convention on domestic abuse by presidential decree, prompting an irate statement from EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who said Ankara was “sending a message dangerous”.
“We cannot help but deeply regret and express our incomprehension towards the decision of the Turkish government to withdraw from this convention that even bears the name of Istanbul,” he said.
But it was not just Turkey’s actions that have slowed its European path.
Hostility to enlargement
The EU has undoubtedly cooled off on the issue of enlargement, shuffling over everything from Romania joins Schengen to the accession of Montenegro to the bloc. If a small pro-Western state like Montenegro, with a population of 660,000, i can’t join europeWhat are the hopes for a country of 82 million?
As such, Turkey’s membership in the EU is unlikely to be on the agenda during Von der Leyen and Michel’s trip on April 6.
The EU needs a new refugee deal to prevent a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis, and much of the debate is likely to focus on how much it will cost them.
Turkey is also a partner in ending the conflicts in Syria and Libya, in which it has been accused of having favorites, if not direct proxies. With Cyprus, negotiations due to start again in March between the Turkish and Greek Cypriot governments, with the EU as an observer, and ensuring that Ankara does not ruin them may be on Europe’s agenda.
On the rule of law, Erdogan has shown no willingness to stem the wave of authoritarianism in Turkey, which critics say has been the hallmark of his 18 years in power. In February, Ankara launched a violent crackdown on student protesters despite threats of censorship from the EU and the United States, while just one day before the summit, ten retired admirals were arrested for criticism of the government.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism