The EU has sent a major trade delegation to Turkey, hoping to restart a process that stalled during the 2013 Gezi Park demonstrations in Istanbul and the resulting crackdown. The Wall Street Journal reports:
Three of the European Union´s top officials arrived in Turkey’s capital for meetings with top officials Monday, seeking to reinvigorate ties as geopolitical challenges from Russia to the Middle East test the parties’ fraying commitment to each other.The Brussels delegation to Ankara marks the bloc’s highest level visit to Turkey in several years, a clear signal of the new European Commission´s determination to right long volatile ties with its neighbor, officials in Brussels say. […]A similar effort to launch a “positive agenda” in May 2012 was effectively sidelined amid nationwide anti-government protests, corruption scandals, and social-media bans that roiled Turkey after mid-2013. Since then, EU ties have largely been characterized by public recriminations and mutual distrust.
Both the short and long-term obstacles to Turkish-EU cooperation are substantial. On matters of current policy, EU nations have concerns both about Erdogan’s growing domestic stranglehold and about the Turkish position vis-a-vis Syria and Iraq. In the long term, several of the most important powers in Europe are fundamentally unreconciled to the prospect of Turkey’s ascension to freedom of movement, a role in European governance, etc. Ankara, for its part, thinks that Assad is a greater threat than ISIS in the short term. And as for the bigger picture, both the Kemalist and AKP parties have striven mightily to meet EU requirements, and many Turks feel that goalposts are constantly being moved.All that being said, there’s strategic value in moving to counter Russian influence in and build Western trade with Turkey. The potential engagement of Turkey’s emerging middle class in the Western economy is one of the few promising trends in a region where prospects are now more grim than they’ve been in some time.But is the EU rethinking its longterm strategy on Turkey, or is it merely countering Russia’s outreach reflexively with an offer of its own? The Eurocrats’ record of foresight in their dance with Putin isn’t particularly impressive, as we’ve seen from the half-hearted sanctions and unproductive negotiations. Given that there was little movement on improving ties between the Ankara and Brussels in the year following Gezi Park, we wonder whether these overtures are more a matter of impulse than anything else.