Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, conveyed his perspective to reporters before departing for the United States, expressing his belief that the EU was attempting to distance itself from Türkiye.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan, in response to inquiries about a European Parliament report on Türkiye, suggested that Ankara might consider a separation from the European Union if deemed necessary. This statement followed the adoption of the report earlier in the week, which asserted that Türkiye’s ongoing accession process with the 27-member EU could not proceed under the present circumstances. The report called for the EU to explore alternative and pragmatic avenues for its relationship with Ankara.
Türkiye has held official candidate status for EU membership for 24 years, but the accession negotiations have encountered significant roadblocks in recent years due to the EU’s concerns about human rights violations and adherence to the rule of law.
Erdogan conveyed his perspective to reporters before departing for the United States, expressing his belief that the EU was attempting to distance itself from Türkiye. He emphasized that Türkiye would assess these developments and, if necessary, could choose to sever its ties with the EU.
Earlier, Türkiye’s Foreign Ministry criticized the European Parliament report, characterizing it as laden with baseless allegations and biases. The ministry also described the report as adopting a superficial and lacking a forward-looking perspective on Türkiye’s relationship with the EU.
Furthermore, Türkiye’s Foreign Ministry criticized the European Parliament report, characterizing it as containing unfounded accusations and biases. The ministry also characterized the report as lacking depth and a forward-looking perspective regarding Türkiye’s relationship with the EU.
Türkiye’s strained relations with EU
The EU had once granted candidate status to Türkiye and initiated accession negotiations, but these efforts effectively imploded in 2018. Türkiye, under Erdogan’s leadership, drifted away from the Copenhagen Criteria, which had guided accession processes since 1993.
Despite this, EU capitals and Brussels acknowledge Türkiye’s strategic importance as a stabilizing force in a volatile region. However, the country’s deviation from EU standards and norms has made accession unlikely for the foreseeable future.
As a result, European strategists must now look beyond the Erdogan era and prepare for the “day after” when Türkiye’s leadership changes. Türkiye, with its geographic location bridging Europe, the Middle East, and Central Asia, remains a crucial neighbor, partner, and factor of stability in a region fraught with crises and conflicts.
Türkiye has sought closer ties with Europe since its founding in 1923 by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk. Over the years, it joined various European organizations and signed agreements to deepen its relationship with the European Economic Community (EEC), which later became the European Union (EU). The Customs Union agreement in 1995 significantly boosted trade between Türkiye and the EU. Türkiye aligned its legislation with EU standards in various areas.
However, Türkiye grew disillusioned as it observed other countries, which it believed had weaker democratic records, receive more financial assistance and join the EU. Türkiye felt left behind, and some argued that a cultural and psychological gap was hindering its accession.
Challenges to Turkish EU membership, democratic influence
The deepening tensions between the EU and Turkey have been a focal point in recent years, with Turkey remaining a formal candidate for EU accession despite these tensions. However, the likelihood of Turkey’s EU membership has been remote for some time, as it falls significantly short of meeting the EU’s accession criteria, including requirements related to democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and a strong market economy. Since 2018, the accession negotiations have effectively stalled.
Despite Turkey’s nominal aspirations for EU membership, the EU has been unable to influence Turkey’s democratic decline, as evident in the European Commission’s annual reports. The EU’s current approach of tying democratic conditionality to the accession process lacks credibility for both parties.
Nonetheless, the EU can still pursue democratic conditionality and a rules-based framework, decoupling them from the accession process. This is essential not just for EU-Turkey relations but also for the EU’s global normative influence. However, it is crucial to recognize that the revival of democracy in Turkey must primarily be driven by Turkey’s own democratic resilience. EU policymakers can contribute by adopting a more appropriate institutional framework and tools to promote democratic values and a rules-based partnership, ultimately benefiting EU-Turkey relations.
The road ahead
The relationship between the European Union (EU) and Türkiye is marked by ongoing disputes and a long-standing pattern of ‘conflictual cooperation,’ rather than being a short-lived disagreement. Attempts to address this dysfunction by renegotiating terms of ad hoc cooperation have yielded unsatisfactory results. Differences of opinion have widened among EU member states and within EU institutions regarding how sternly to deal with Türkiye and how to balance concerns about democratic setbacks with other priorities.
It is essential to recognize that the EU cannot easily switch between treating Türkiye as a third country. The EU’s current approach of striving to avoid crises, adjusting terms when necessary, and passively hoping for democratic improvements in Türkiye is unsustainable. Even if such positive changes were to occur, the problems stemming from the stalled EU-Türkiye accession talks would persist.
Given the lack of a credible prospect for Turkish EU membership in the foreseeable future, using accession as a tool for democratic conditionality appears unlikely. Instead, it is prudent for the EU to begin discussions about the possibility of renegotiating an association agreement with Türkiye to steer the relationship in a more positive direction. At some point, Türkiye might be prepared to embrace a democratic path, and the EU should consider what incentives it can offer when that moment arises.
Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan’s recent remarks about the possibility of a ‘separation’ from the European Union highlight the ongoing challenges in EU-Türkiye relations. The European Parliament’s report, which questioned Türkiye’s path to EU membership, reflects the current state of strained ties. Türkiye has officially been a candidate for EU membership for over two decades, but accession talks have stalled due to concerns about human rights and the rule of law. Türkiye’s internal political developments, under Erdogan’s leadership, have raised concerns about democratic freedoms and a shift toward autocracy. The EU, once hopeful about Türkiye’s modernization, has witnessed this divergence from democratic norms.
While the prospect of Turkish EU membership remains distant, both parties must consider alternative frameworks for cooperation. The EU should engage in discussions about renegotiating an association agreement with Türkiye, acknowledging the importance of the country’s strategic location and its potential to contribute to stability in a volatile region.