Austria has held the term presidency of the EU and its rigid attitute towards Turkey poses a challange to Ankara’s aims for EU membership. What should be Turkey doing in this process?

Hilal Köylü

Turkey held both presidential and parliamentary elections. Now the attention is on the new government’s foreign policy. Most of the agenda during the elections campaigns was about Turkey’s hardtime with EU negotiations. Future of this process that was reflected to Turkish and EU public opinion mostly as a “quarrel” rather than a dialogue, will be more and more questioned in the following period. Because in Turkey, a politics ready to grind the EU for “keeping its promises” is now in power. On the other hand Austria, who has been objecting Turkey’s membership from the very beginning has taken over the term presidency. Austria, who will be holding the presidency for six months, advocates closing the doors to Turkey for violating human rights. Ankara, having no hopes for a new opening in relations with the EU under Austria’s presidency, points out that Austria’s attitude towards Turkey has also been misconceived by other member countries.

Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz ‘s statement given on March 2018’s leaders’ summit between Turkey and EU that, “considering the violations of basic democratic values and human rights, since the Copenhagen criteria have not been put in practice, membership negotiations between Turkey and the EU should be halted,” seems to have left its mark on Austria’s coming 6 month plans. It is such that Austria chooses not to include Turkey in its 6 months term presidency programme. Austria’s reasons for this choice had been put forward by Austria’s EU Minister Gernot Bluemel’s statement in April 2018, that, “membership negotiations with Turkey should be terminated. We do not believe Turkey should be a EU member” as well as by Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl’s declaration that, “Vienna does not see Turkey as a candidate that could be an EU member,” last week at the General Affairs Council meeting in Luxemburg. Is it possible to prevent these discourses coming from Austria where the extreme right is a part of the ruling alliance, influence other EU member countries or what should Turkey do in order to overcome this attitude?

‘THE MEGAPHONE DIPLOMACY SHOULD COME TO AN END’

One of the founding members of the Justice and Development Party, retired ambassador Yaşar Yakış, who had also held the office of Foreign Minister points out Turkey’s attitude of ignoring Austria’s term presidency. Yakış argues that, “first of all Turkey should stop clamoring and bring the megaphone diplomacy to an end. In fact, Turkey has first tried not to make an issue of Austria’s attitude and this was an accurate approach however it is not right to confront the other side with harsh outbursts.” Yakış assesses that there is a group of 25 % that categorically objects Turkey’s membership while another 25 % that categorically supports its membership in every EU member country including Austria and he adds that, “that’s to say a group of 50 % breaking with these two extremes and supports Turkey when it realizes right accomplishments while criticizes its faults. Turkey has to take steps in the direction which would convince this 50 % of its commitment to EU membership.” Regarding what these steps should be, Yakış starts with arguing that, “to begin with, it is tremendously wrong to discuss restoring of capital punishment in Turkey. Turkey, by stipulating that it would not implement capital punishment even in state of war, had realized a great reform in means of universal law. If it put reenacting capital punishment on the agenda, this would be a serious back step on the way to EU membership.” Regarding the positive steps Yakış argues that, “Turkey should offer expansion on the regulations that restrict basic rights and freedoms, strengthen the freedom of speech, remove the obstacles the newspapers face in reporting news. It should win the trust of EU public opinion by securing the freedom of press.”

‘AUSTRIA’S ATTITUTE IS AN OPPORTUNITY’

Retired ambassador Faruk Loğoğlu also comments on what Turkey should do against Austria’s attitude. Loğoğlu argues that Austria’s rigid attitude against Turkey might be an opportunity for Turkey. He says, “squabbling and quarreling with Austria will not serve any purpose what so ever and bring in any gains for Turkey” and gives the message that Turkey could rapidly undertake certain measures with the EU perspective. Loğoğlu specifies some of these measures: “Repealing the state of emergency should not be held up. There is anymore no justification and meaning for the state of emergency. Turkey could show that there is still judicial independence in the country. Judicial processes of those journalists under arrest could be speeded up. The ban on internet encyclopedia, Wikipedia could be repealed.”

‘WE TOTALLY IGNORE THE TERM PRESIDENCY’

Turkish government had criticized Austria’s attitude towards Turkey’s possible EU membership with trenchant words. While the Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu was saying that, “we don’t think positive steps to be taken during Austria’s presidency. Neither do we expect new negotiation chapters to be opened,” EU Minister Ömer Çelik had chosen to attack Austria with harsh and heavy statements. Çelik had said that Austrian government, which has closed some of the mosques and deport some imams under the accusation that they were radical, “has become the champion of Islamophobia,” and added that “they totally ignore Austria’s term presidency.

The country holding the term presidency of EU cannot take unilateral decisions. However, it is feared that the tensions between Austria and Turkey would disrupt the dialogue between the EU and Turkey. A positive development in the relations between EU and Turkey is not expected to take place within the next six months. At the end of 2018 Austria will hand over the term presidency to Romania. It is also argued that due to the elections for the European Parliament it will not be possible to take positive steps regarding Turkey’s membership during 2019.