Speaking Out Loud But Carrying a Small Stick: Is the European Union Powerless Against Erdogan?


The European Union’s position on Turkey’s military incursion into northern Syria is one of the rare cases in which the EU speaks loudly and with one voice. While the European Union publicly He condemned the Turkish operations in northern Syria, Its rhetoric was not backed by any concrete action or convincing engagement with Turkey.

Instead, the decisive factor in stopping the Turkish military offensive was A ceasefire agreement brokered by the United States for a period of five days between Turkey and Kurdish militias On October 17th. This was followed by an agreement reached between Turkey and Russia on October 22, Under which countries have agreed on standards a A safe area along the Syrian-Turkish border.

According to the agreement, Turkey will maintain its military presence in northeastern Syria – the area captured since the start of “Operation Peace Spring” – and Russian forces, along with the Syrian army, will control the rest of the border with the aim of pushing back the Kurds. The militia is far from the Turkish-Syrian border.

although The European Union stated The Turkish military offensive and subsequent developments threaten its vital security interests, so why was Brussels a marginal party during the crisis?

The negotiations are deadlocked

The first factor that has prevented the European Union from being an influential player in the recent crisis is the erosion of its influence vis-à-vis Turkey. While Turkey is still officially a candidate country to join the European Union, and thus in theory it is the country most vulnerable to EU pressure, Accession negotiations have reached a dead end. Despite a rhetorical commitment to the goal of accession, Turkey’s membership is off the table for both Ankara and Brussels.

Instead of searching for new ways to restore relations on a mutually satisfactory and practical basis, the European Union and Turkey have blamed each other for the deterioration of their relationship since Accession negotiations opened in October 2005.

The European Union blames Turkey for pushing it out of the European Union, while Turkey blames the EU for putting up a dossier The Cyprus issue At the heart of bilateral relations in addition to the other Member states to block the accession process.

Since the negotiations opened, the veto has been used before European Council, France and Cyprus Concerning the opening and closing of chapters of Turkey’s accession talks, and the public opposition to FranceAnd the Germany And the Denmark It has exacerbated the Turkish government’s belief that the European Union is treating Turkey unfairly.

The European Union’s attractive power shrank

Meanwhile, the European Union has failed to open decisive chapters to preserve Turkey’s democratization process (Such as Chapter 23 on the judiciary and basic rights and Chapter 24 on justice, freedom and security). It has also been reluctant to start negotiations on modernizing the customs union. The EU-Turkey Customs Union, which came into effect in 1995, covers all industrial goods but excludes agriculture (except for processed agricultural products), services or public procurement.

By expanding the Customs Union to include services, agriculture, and public procurement, the European Union can further anchor Turkey economically in the European Union. But The proposal submitted by the commission in 2016 It was stopped by board In June 2018, based on the accelerating authoritarian drift in Turkey.

On the part of the European Union, had these opportunities not been sacrificed, Turkey would have much to lose from a deteriorating relationship with Europe, giving the European Union adequate leverage in times of crisis.

Europe’s Lack of Strategy in Syria

The second factor that has prevented Europe from being an influential player in the recent crisis is its wrong policy in dealing with Syria. Instead of developing a long-term policy aimed at stabilizing the region, Europe pursued a negative policy and opted for short-term solutions centered around two main objectives.

First, Europe has limited its interests to containing Syrian refugees in neighboring regions (and far from the European Union). One of the main pillars of this policy is 2016 agreement between leaders of the European Union and Turkey, With the aim of stemming the flow of refugees from Turkey to the European Union. This agreement made Europe vulnerable to blackmail from the Turkish president who was threatening to do so The release of 3.6 million refugees in Europe.

Europe’s second goal was to keep ISIS jihadists in Syria under control. To achieve this goal, the United States and Europe have relied on the Kurdish militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), which is linked to the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).

The PKK, which has launched numerous deadly attacks across Turkey over the past few decades, is also on the European Union’s list of terrorist organizations. This raised questions about the sustainability of Europe’s approach to fighting ISIS, which relies on arming, training and working with Kurdish militias. Trump’s decision to withdraw US forces from Syria changed Europe’s plans to control ISIS via Kurdish forces by providing a much-needed power vacuum for Turkey to conduct its operations in northern Syria for the sake of Elimination of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (YPG) from the southern borders of Turkey.

The European Union is not equipped to deal with authoritarian states

Finally, the European Union is not well equipped to deal with authoritarian states. While autocrats seize every opportunity to consolidate their power, the European Union’s attempts to use traditional foreign policy tools are in the interest of authoritarian rulers.

For example, the European Union did not succeed in imposing an arms embargo on Turkey at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting on October 14. Strong national positions on arms export policy to TurkeyAgreeing to coordinate the positions of member states.

This symbolic decision, far from influencing Turkey, reinforced Erdogan’s anti-Western and European skeptical rhetoric. The Turkish president immediately took advantage of the European Union’s decision, highlighting it Turkey’s isolation in the fight against terrorism. Likewise, the European Parliament decision on October 24 On the Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria, which called for smart sanctions against Turkey, it had no effect.

The Turkish leader is well aware that these measures are unlikely to be fully implemented because the adoption of sanctions requires consensus in the council. On the contrary, Erdoan used the European Parliament resolution to stir up Turkish society’s discontent against the European Union.

The Limits of European Union Soft Power

Although the Turkish military offensive was heavily criticized by Europe, Turkey not only gained recognition of the legitimacy of its military presence in northern Syria – through the deal it struck first with the United States, and then with Russia, but it also gained leverage from the position. Final settlement of post-war Syria with Russian support.

While the recent crisis demonstrates the limits of the European Union’s soft power and its diminishing ability to shape developments in its neighborhood, the consolidation of Turkey’s rapprochement with Russia signals a more difficult period in the European neighborhood, when Europe must face a permanent crisis. An unreliable and unpredictable partner. Unless the European Union takes more responsibility in the Syrian conflict and develops new ways to re-engage with Turkey, Brussels will continue to speak out loud while holding a small stick.

This does not mean that the European Union should turn a blind eye to the erosion of democracy or human rights violations in Turkey. On the contrary, the more incentives the European Union provides to the Turkish community, the harder it will be for the Turkish government to continue to maintain strained relations with the EU. It is time for the European Union to begin a more constructive relationship with Turkey, as the cost of losing Europe to Turkey greatly outweighs the benefits of seeking alternative partnerships.

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