For the EU, Turkey is now only a transactional partner. Period

Ankara’s relationship with EU capitals and the EU Commission will be based on issues of security, stability and trade, none of which involve a commitment to “values.”

The game — membership accession negotiations between Turkey and the European Union — is more or less over.

This is one of the main consequences of Turkey’s June 24 election, in which Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s extended process of “autogolpe” has been institutionalised.

“Autogolpe” is a term coined in Latin America for the personalisation of power by way of a “self-coup.” In Turkey, it has been fully achieved.

The votes that went to opposition parties were not enough to provide checks on Erdogan’s move to assume sweeping powers and indefinitely shelve the return to democratic norms.

Turkey’s destiny rests in a single ruler, backed by a powerful Islamist-nationalist coalition, which is sometimes branded as a “Turko-Islamic Synthesis.” Some call it a regional version of fascism. Others say it is simply “super-presidential rule.”

Whatever happens on that front, one point is clear: The Turkish government has been sliding inch by inch away from the Copenhagen Criteria, the rules that define a country’s EU eligibility.

The state of emergency, imposed after the failed uprising of July 15, 2016, signifies Ankara’s lack of commitment to the process of European accession. After all, the Copenhagen Criteria require a candidate for EU membership to have the institutions to preserve democratic governance and human rights.

The recent elections were the final nails in the coffin of Turkish-EU membership negotiations. As some observers put it, Turkey is no longer in the European Union’s orbit. A new Central Asian regime is establishing itself, one that cannot be reconciled with European standards. Erdogan and his ruling coalition no longer have any interest in EU membership, either.

In a rapid and unexpectedly blunt statement, the Council of the European Union confirmed the above. It said: “The council notes that Turkey has been moving further away from the European Union… Turkey’s accession negotiations have therefore effectively come to a standstill and no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing and no further work towards the modernisation of the EU-Turkey customs union is foreseen.”

That means a bit more than what it appears to say. Basically, it ends the long period of “mumbling,” appeasement and ostrich policies with respect to Turkey’s EU membership application. In fact, the recent EU summit in Brussels degraded Turkey’s status, for all practical purposes, from negotiating partner to a transactional one.

Forget membership under these conditions, it says, and equally dramatically, to Ankara’s fury, best to forget modernisation of the customs union.

What does the EU statement mean? Clearly, that Brussels has read the architecture of the new regime, which the election is supposed to have legitimised. The era dominated by Kemalist doctrine is over.

This, the Fourth Republic of Turkey, will be in defiance of even minimum democratic standards or so the European Union seems to reason. Thus far, each republic — 1924, when the constitution was adopted; and in 1961 and 1980 after military coups — had sought to maintain some democratic standards but in the Fourth Republic, there is the striking absence of the separation of powers, checks and balances and rule of law.

That said, the European Union still says Turkey remains a “key partner.” This means Ankara’s relationship with EU capitals and the EU Commission will be transactional. It will be based on issues of security, stability and trade, none of which involve a commitment to “values.” Both sides have an interest in keeping the volume of trade high and Ankara, therefore, is not expected to unilaterally abolish the customs union.

The European Union needs Erdogan’s iron hand to curb the refugee influx. The issue is even more important now, especially the possibility that domestic oppression may trigger a new wave of refugees among Turkish citizens.

Counterterrorism will remain important and European capitals can be expected to invest more in security cooperation with the Erdogan administration.

However, there is no point looking at the new era as one that will be less fraught with tension. For all those involved it will require brinkmanship and anger management. The Fourth Republic of Turkey has one clear feature: dominant cadres in the state apparatus are fiercely anti-Western, as reflected by their words and deeds.

Expect even tougher times ahead.

Yavuz Baydar is a senior Turkish columnist, and news analyst. A founding member of the Platform for Independent Journalism (P24) in Istanbul, he has been reporting on Turkey and monitoring media issues since 1980. A European Press Prize Laureate in 2014, he is also the winner of Germany's 'Journalistenpreis' in 2018. 

This article was originally published in The Arab Weekly.