The Turkey-EU summit that Ankara has been eyeing for some time is to be held on March 26 in the Bulgarian resort of Varna.
According to information supplied by EU Council spokesman Preben Aamann, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will come together with EU Council President Donald Tusk and EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to discuss a range of issues.
The pro-government media is indicating that the main topics will be “EU-Turkey relations as well as regional and international issues.” The copy of the letter sent by Tusk to Erdogan, which was posted on Twitter by Aamann, does say that these issues will be discussed.
Very much in line with the selective reporting that has become familiar, though, the pro-government media is conveniently shrouding over some of the main details of Tusk’s letter.
That letter spells out clearly that “the rule of law, fundamental freedoms which remain fundamental to the fabric of and prospects for EU Turkey relations” will be among the key topics to be taken up.
Looked at Tusk’s invitation letter in its entirety, one can confidently say that this summit will produce little with regard Ankara’s EU membership bid. The state of the “the rule of law and fundamental freedoms” in Turkey does not allow for this. The legal measures being taken against pacifists opposed to Turkey’s incursion into Syria concretizes this fact even more.
What is equally true, however, is that the EU does not want to let Turkey drift away from Europe because this would be against its strategic interests. Various European officials and leaders have been suggesting a new format for Turkish-EU ties that does not entail progress on Ankara’s membership bid.
Put another way, they are recommending a “special partnership” which was first put forward by Germany and France a decade ago, and which Ankara has persistently rejected. The argument against this suggestion has always been that Turkey will not accept second-class membership.
Erdogan repeated this in an interview with the Italian press recently, saying Turkey would settle for nothing less than full membership. How he plans to bring this about, given that his administration has been drifting away from EU values that are prerequisite for membership, is not clear.
In the meantime, negative developments with key EU member states continue apace. The latest development in this regard is the decision by the Netherlands to withdraw its ambassador in Ankara.
Nevertheless, no matter what strains there may be in ties, Turkish officials are also aware that it is not easy to put an end to Ankara’s membership bid because this would also be counter to Turkey’s interests.
So the sides will pretend that this bid remains active, but act as if it does not exist, in order to maintain their mutual interests, including cooperation in the vital areas of security and economic ties.
The bottom line is that Ankara may insist it will not settle for anything less than full membership, but appears more ready than ever to accept a working relationship with the EU that is not encumbered by this bid.
Put another way Turkey is inching its way toward the “special partnership” it supposedly rejects. It is doing this because it has left itself with no other choice.