Recent remarks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan have sparked speculations that his country could sever ties with the European Union (EU), but still, experts think a break-up is not in the interest of either side.
During a speech in the parliament on Oct. 1, Erdogan said his country no longer expects anything from Brussels after waiting for decades to become an EU member.
“We have kept all the promises we have made to the EU, but the bloc has kept almost none of its,” he said, and criticized the bloc for “keeping Türkiye at its door for (over) 40 years.”
Erdogan was particularly frustrated at the ordeal of joining the EU that Türkiye needs to get through.
He warned that if this is not dealt with, the EU “will completely lose the right to expect anything from us,” adding that he could break with the bloc when concrete steps have been few and related talks are stalled.
Erdogan’s dissatisfaction is also believed to stem from a recent ruling of the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) that condemned Türkiye for convicting a teacher following the 2016 coup attempt.
This ECHR’s decision could set a significant precedent, as numerous similar cases are awaiting review by the Strasbourg-based court.
Most analysts believe that despite multiple sources of tension between Ankara and Brussels, there are still possible areas of progress in mutual interest.
An end to Ankara’s EU membership talks is not in the best interest of either side, Mustafa Nail Alkan, a scholar at Ankara’s Haci Bayram Veli University, told Xinhua.
Alkan attributed Erdogan’s comments to his country’s “frustration” at the block’s unwillingness to restart accession talks and take concrete measures towards meeting the Turkish demands, including the visa applications.
He underscored that “there is a long-existing political background behind this relationship, and there is also a big volume of trade between the two sides that cannot be easily given up.”
Data from the European Commission showed the total trade in goods between the EU and Türkiye in 2022 amounted to 198.1 billion euros (about 208.25 billion U.S. dollars), representing 3.6 percent of the EU’s total trade with the world, while the EU has the lion’s share in Turkish exports, according to Turkish Trade Ministry.
Türkiye signed an association agreement with the EU’s predecessor, the European Economic Community, in 1964, applied to join the bloc in 1987 and was granted official candidate status in 1999. Ankara started membership talks with Brussels in 2005, but no breakthrough has been made since then.
Ankara insists that it has fulfilled most of the criteria for the membership, arguing that political and religious considerations among some member states are preventing progress on accession talks.
“Currently, returning to membership negotiations seems difficult in the short term, but cooperation channels can be strengthened,” Berkay Mandiraci, an analyst with the International Crisis Group, a non-governmental international organization, told Xinhua.
He said some progress in areas of shared interest, such as the modernization of a customs union, the granting of more and longer-term visas for Turkish businessmen, and the revival of high-level dialogues, could substantially improve bilateral ties.
Türkiye is the only non-member country in a customs union agreement with the EU. The European Commission has been working to revamp the deal but failed to deliver results.
“While Ankara expects the EU to bring concrete proposals to the table, the EU also wants to see strong signals from Ankara that it is willing to re-enter the membership route,” Mandiraci said.
However, it will not be easy to rebuild confidence that has been lost for years, he added.