Europe is closely observing the Turkish elections as a change in leadership could lead to a reset in Türkiye-EU relations
The European Parliament had called on the EU Commission to formally suspend talks with Türkiye because of “the authoritarian interpretation of the presidential system, lack of independence of the judiciary and continued hyper-centralization of power in the presidency.”Another key issue is the question of the sovereignty of Cyprus, which had been partitioned in 1974 between the Greek Cypriot government and the Turkish Cypriot government. The tensions grew in 2019 when the Turkish government started to explore and drill energy resources in the Eastern Mediterranean. Both Greece and Cyprus had called out Türkiye for infringing upon their continental shelf and exclusive economic zones. The tensions led to the suspension of Association Council meetings and other high-level dialogues between the EU and Ankara. Even with NATO, relations have witnessed a downward trend. According to public opinion polls, the majority of the Turkish population does not trust the alliance to stand by Ankara in case of a conflict. Relations hit rock bottom in 2017 when Türkiye opted to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, which was deemed incompatible with NATO’s defence systems on the grounds of interoperability. This led the United States (US) to suspend Ankara’s participation in its F-35 programme and also put sanctions on the country. Another source of irritation for the Transatlantic Alliance is Türkiye’s refusal to ratify membership bids of Finland and Sweden. According to Ankara, both Nordic countries have provided safe havens to individuals and terrorist organisations—or so it deems—and wants them to take strict actions against the groups, including extraditions of alleged Kurdish fighters. While it cleared the way for Finland to join in April 2023, Sweden’s bid is still pending.
Relations hit rock bottom in 2017 when Türkiye opted to buy the Russian S-400 missile system, which was deemed incompatible with NATO’s defence systems on the grounds of interoperability.Also, Türkiye has come to play a pragmatic role in the Ukraine crisis. On the one hand, it has supplied weapons, especially the Bayraktar drones to Ukraine, and, on the other, it has refused to join the Western sanctions on Russia. Ankara also hosted negotiations between the two in the early part of the conflict. This balancing act has allowed Türkiye to reach out to both President Putin and President Zelenskyy to seek diplomatic breakthroughs such as brokering a grain export deal and the exchange of prisoners—keeping the channels of communication open between Russia and Ukraine.
The accession to the EU will remain in the deep-freeze, the transactional partnership on the Syrian migrants issue would continue, and getting the disbursal of 7 billion euros pledged by the EU and international donors for recovery from the February 2023 earthquakes would remain a priority.The elections in Türkiye are being closely watched by the EU, primarily because they will define the future of the relations between the two partners. There is hope that a change in leadership will affect the conversations on important issues such as migration, security, energy, and the policy orientation on Russia. This is primarily because the Opposition candidate Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu, during his campaign, had called for normalisation of relations with the West, including restarting the process of accession and restoring the trust of its allies. He had also called for a review of the purchase of the S-400 missile defence systems and to restore Türkiye’s position in the US’ F-35 programme. While these steps will be welcomed by the EU, however, the main test for Kemal Kiliçdaroğlu would remain the reversing of the constitutional and parliamentary reforms, and getting the economy back on track. However, if President Erdoğan is able to secure another term, relations will follow more or less a similar pattern as seen in the past few years of balancing Turkish interests with the East and the West. In short, the accession to the EU will remain in the deep-freeze, the transactional partnership on the Syrian migrants issue would continue, and getting the disbursal of 7 billion euros pledged by the EU and international donors for recovery from the February 2023 earthquakes would remain a priority. For its part, the EU would continue to stall visa-free travel for Turkish citizens over Ankara’s failure to meet criteria, there will be limited movement in updating the customs union agreement; and there will be continued support for Turkish diplomatic efforts to safeguard the grain deal between Russia and Ukraine. In short, the relations will continue to be characterised as walking a diplomatic tight-rope. Therefore, whatever the outcome may be, these elections highlight the need for the EU and its member states to assess their partnership with Türkiye and see how much they can reset the future trajectory of relations.
The views expressed above belong to the author(s). ORF research and analyses now available on Telegram! Click here to access our curated content — blogs, longforms and interviews.
Ankita Dutta was a Fellow with ORFs Strategic Studies Programme. Her research interests include European affairs and politics European Union and affairs Indian foreign policy ...Read More +