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EU Faces Balancing Act in Dealing With Turkey After Erdogan’s Win

Turkey’s European Union journey has been marred by occasional crises and diplomatic rows over the past several years. The crackdown on political opponents that took place in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016 created a near-perpetual state of tension that defines the turbulent relationship between Ankara and Brussels since then.

But President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s win in the presidential election on Sunday would plunge the ties into an irreversible path, with Turkey’s decades-old aspiration to join the E.U. facing the prospect of being a pipe dream in the foreseeable future.

For the E.U., dealing with an unruly and increasingly authoritarian leader along with the need to preserve a fragile migrant deal requires a constant balancing act.

This week saw back and forth fluctuating between moral questioning of the election outcome and today’s agreement that secured the release of $3.72 billion financial aid to Turkey for Syrian refugees.

“We have agreed to allocate the second tranche for Turkey,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said after a key summit in Brussels.

It came as part of the migrant deal reached between Turkey and the E.U. in March 2016 to stem the flow of migrants from the Turkish territory to the E.U. countries.

“It is very important signal now that we can finally transfer the second tranche of €3 billion to Turkey, of course on a project-based program, for Syrian refugees,” Merkel said, according to the state-run Anadolu news agency.

She was one of the few E.U. leaders to congratulate the Turkish president after his win in the critical presidential election seen by Europeans as neither free nor fair.

The emergence of a regime change in Turkey after legitimization of the one-man rule at the ballot box was met with consternation in Europe.

“The council [of ministers] notes that Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union,” E.U. affairs ministers said in a joint statement after a meeting in Luxembourg on Wednesday.

“Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing,” it said, adding that “no further work towards the modernization of the EU-Turkey Customs Union is foreseen.”

Although President of European Council Donald Tusk and President of European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker sent a joint letter to President Erdogan to congratulate him, the general mood was not positive in the E.U.

“The last obstacle for the introduction of a highly undemocratic presidential system has now been removed,” Kati Piri, E.U. rapporteur for Turkey, wrote on Twitter. “A system which is absolutely incompatible with EU accession talks.”

‘Accession off the table now’

“In fact, we have been de facto in this situation for some time, but the elections further suggested that Turkey is moving away from the EU and its norms – which is what the ministers said and how they justified their statement,” William Bill Park of King’s College London told Globe Post Turkey. “The EU doesn’t like the autocratic nature of Erdogan’s rule, the removal of checks and balances, the repression of opposition etc. This won’t change. Accession is off the table now.”

But, Park said, there is still scope for transactional relationships between the EU and Turkey. He believes that the tranche of money that has just been handed over is part of this – it is not an olive branch or a goodwill gesture, but is in honour of an agreement already made and reflects the EU’s hopes that Turkey will prevent large numbers of migrants from heading towards Europe from the Middle East.

A statement released by the European Council offered details where the additional funding could be spent.

It said the facility has been providing assistance for refugees in Turkey in a number of fields, such as humanitarian aid, health care, education and socioeconomic support.

“The agreement on the second tranche of funding will ensure that projects in important areas, such as the education of child refugees, can continue without interruption when the contracts under the first tranche come to an end,” the statement added.

According to Park, in the face of differences surrounding the Middle East regional politics, and Turkey’s relentless rhetorical hostility towards Europe, and its attempts to intimidate, kidnap [critics], campaign and recruit amongst Europe’s Turkish population, even a transactional relationship is difficult to manage. That applies to U.S.-Turkey relations, too, he noted.

The Turkish side also harbors resentment towards the union.

“I don’t think there will be positive steps taken during Austria’s term presidency. We spoke at length with the Austrian foreign minister, but unfortunately, the current chancellor is even more extreme than the far-right party,” Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said in a televised interview aired on NTV.

Turkey’s relations with Austria were seriously strained earlier this month when Chancellor Sebastian Kurz‘s government decided to expel 60 imams and their families linked with Turkey’s Religious Directorate.

Ankara reacted in fury and accused Kurz’s administration of fueling Islamaphobia and discrimination against the Muslim Turkish minority.

Apart from the latest spat, Chancellor Kurz has never felt the need to conceal his views about Turkey’s E.U. membership bid. He unflinchingly stands against Ankara’s accession to the union.

Once Kurz and his likeminded politicians appeared to be in a marginal, isolated position within the E.U. regarding Turkey’s accession, they no longer represent the minority view. Their stance has become a mainstream one shared by many others, albeit not so open and feverishly.

After 160,000 people have been sacked in post-coup purge without due process and 50,000 people have been jailed on bogus charges in the aftermath of a failed coup in 2016, there is a change of heart towards Ankara.

“Turkey has been off course in its accession path for many years now. The original sin lies in the E.U. for the resistance of several member states to Turkey’s E.U. membership following the opening of accession talks,” Nathalie Tocci, Deputy Director of Istituto Affari Internazionali, told Globe Post Turkey. “But the European sins were soon matched by Turkey’s, that gradually started veering off its democratic path.”

Tocci who also serves as special advisor to Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, noted that the June 2018 elections are the culmination of this trend: the accession process is dead in all but name.

But, she added with a caveat, that this does not mean that Turkey and the E.U. will not cooperate.

According to her, the interdependence between the two is so deep and wide that cooperation will continue notwithstanding conflictual dynamics which are likely to grow moving forward. The migration deal, she argued, is evidence of this, as is the agreement on the extra 3bn euros in the framework of such deal.

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