Merry Christmas from Erdogan, Putin, Mogherini and the Polish firefighter

Mr Tusk is happily "jingling" the bell during the EU Council of last week (18-19 December). Mr Donald Tusk is the President of the EU Council (EU Council TV newsroom, 18/12/2014)

Mr Tusk is happily “jingling” the bell during the EU Council of last week (18-19 December). Mr Donald Tusk is the President of the EU Council (EU Council TV newsroom, 18/12/2014)

One month is more than enough in international diplomacy to flip the world. During the last month of this long 2014 we were cought by surprise by the speed of the evolutions regarding the “EU-Turkey” project. Things were changing so fast every week of this December that even the most experienced analysts remained numb and thus preferred to watch the political thriller from the couch.

Putin set the fire

But let’s take things from the beginning. On the first day of this perplexed month Mr Putin paid a visit to Turkey, Russia’s second biggest trade partner. It was there that, while they were talking business, he suddenly announces to world that he shuts down the South Stream project, the gas pipeline linking Russia with the EU. Instead, the Russian leader said he would move to a gas co-operation with Turkey. This can be explained as a reaction of the Russian President to the continuous sanctions sent to Moscow by the EU, as a retaliation for the Ukrainian matter.

EU’s happy flight to Ankara

While everybody in Turkey was happy to hear Russia increasing its ties with their Turkish “pasha”, back in Brussels people were running panicked to check flight tickets to Ankara. The tickets were booked in the name of Mrs Federica Mogherini, High Representative of the EU, Johannes Hahn, Commissioner for European Neighbourhood Policy and Enlargement, Negotiations, and Christos Stylianides, Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Management. The first aim of this official EU visit to Turkey, the first in years, was of course to answer to this intense Turkish flirt with Russia. Also in the agenda there was a further enhancement of the EU-Turkey relations as well as the humanitarian aid to Syrian refugees in Turkey and the fight against threats from IS.

It is interesting here to give a few quotes by Mrs Mogherini, just to see how one week is enough in international diplomacy for a diplomat to undo his “weighted” words: “The visit to Turkey is a strong indication of the strategic importance of the EU-Turkey relationship and our desire to step up engagement in view of shared interests and common challenges”, Mrs Mogherini had said. “Our top priority will be Turkey’s EU accession process”, she had added. “We aim to work with Turkish government officials to give the process a concrete step and move forward”, she had also stated.

The slap in the face

While Mrs Mogherini came back triumphant from Ankara and most media in the world were writing about a major step in the negotiations for Turkey’s accession in the bloc, which started in 2005, EU suddenly received another slap in the face. Just a few days after our EU representatives took their suits outside of their suitcases, back in Turkey Mr Erdogan’s “regime” entered violently the headquarters of Zaman, country’s biggest daily newspaper, and Samanyolu, a very big TV station, and arrested 24 people, the editor of the newspaper and the channel’s director included. That happened on the grounds that those media were establishing “a terrorist group”. Truth is that these media are allegedly influenced by the “self-ostracised” cleric Fethullah Gulen, who once was supporting Mr Erdogan but is now campaigning against the Turkish President from a safer place, New York.

Mind your own business

Immediately after the news broke, the same Mrs Mogherini who was praising EU-Turkey relations a few days before, she now rushed to express her discontent with this raid against media. “I’ve seen the reaction from President Erdogan and I’m very surprised”, the EU High representative said. She further continues by stressing that the raids against Turkish media are “against the European values,” adding that they were “incompatible with the freedom of media, which is a core principle of democracy.”

Mrs Mogherini, who had come from the trip to Ankara with a smile on her face, she received the following answer-statement by the powerful Turkish leader in a not so diplomatic spirit: “The European Union cannot interfere in steps taken … within the rule of law against elements that threaten our national security”…”They should mind their own business.”…”We have no concern about what the EU might say, whether the EU accepts us as members or not, we have no such concern”… “Please keep your wisdom to yourself.”

The Polish firefighter

And then, Mr Donald Tusk, President of the EU Council, in the role of firefighter, he called Mr Erdogan yesterday to bridge the EU-Turkey differences with a little bit of Christmas spirit. The good former Polish Premier tried over the phone to neutralise the political tension, to insist on the importance of the EU-Turkey relations and wished Merry Christmas to someone that by default does not celebrate Christmas. “It was a good opportunity to discuss ways to further strengthen the relations between the European Union and Turkey, which is a common priority. I welcomed Turkey’s recently adopted EU strategy and expressed my hope that good progress will be made in 2015″…”We agreed to remain in close contact and both looked forward to a meeting at the earliest possible opportunity”, Mr tusk said.

Back to square one

Many analysts in Brussels and beyond adamantly believe that after this dreadful December, the negotiations over the Turkish accession into the EU are back to square one. Many think tanks agree with this and produced reports in December that stress how bad things are in the EU-Turkey negotiations at this point. “Turkish-EU relations are not in terminal decline, but going through very rough storms at present,” Felix Schmidt said from the German think-tank the Friedrich Ebert Foundation. More quotes like this flooded the press in the past days. Even the EU Affairs Minister, Volkan Bozkir, was joking on twitter about the mere “role” of existence of his ministry from now one, regarding criticism for EU-Turkey accession tactics.

All in all, the EU-Turkey negotiations for accession are officially grounded right at the dawn of 2015. 10 years after its launch the discussion has born limited fruit. On the one side, Turkey is breaking little by little its promises to the West. The current President’s aspiration in Turkey is to revitalise the Islamic basics of the Turkish society and protect the Islamic culture in a strategy to consolidate further his electorate. A recent example is the government’s plan to bring Ottoman Turkish back to school, an older form of Turkish written in Arabic script, that had been cancelled by Kemal Ataturk in 1928. Being this only one of the several examples, today in Turkey’s politics everything is very conservative and this gets more and more intense. Inequality of women and men, lack of media freedom and more are some values that, let’s face it, do not align with the European values.

Lack of understanding

This Turkish political set up though, needs to be respected and understood by EU negotiators at all times. Otherwise English cannot be enough as common language to proceed talks with the east. And by all means let’s not repeat the mistakes made with Ukraine. Our European leaders need to properly do their homework this time. It seems that the European “trio” that visited Ankara at the beginning of December did not unfortunately master this principle. They treated this prospect member state like it was Croatia. And this is the biggest mistake in the negotiations.

Europe does not have the power to make this 80 million citizen country, with deep Islamic roots and connections, to abide by the most modern western and free, neoliberal ideas. This is not possible, especially given the demographics of Mr Erdogan’s electorate. What should be possible though is to find a common language to speak and do business in a fruitful way for both parties.

And this could be the only direction of the EU-Turkey talks, for the time being.

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