Ever since the failed coup attempt of July 2016, Turkey’s relationship with the EU has been oscillating between worse and worst. Within days after the foiled coup attempt, Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and the AKP-government declared a state of emergency and massively intensified their crackdown on alleged members of the Gülen movement whom they had long been blaming for conspiring to overthrow the government. Once supported by and aligned with the AKP, the movement was ultimately relisted as a threat to national security in 2015 and later declared a terrorist organization. Erdoğan and the government, however, made clear early on that the crackdown would not only be limited toGülenists, but target the members of any terrorist organization operating in Turkey, most significantly, the PKK (Kurdish Workers Party). By mid-November 2016, more than 100,000 people – including, first and foremost, police personnel, prosecutors, judges, teachers, academics,and members of the military – had either been suspended or dismissed from their posts, while around 40,000 had either been detained or arrested for allegedly belonging to, acting in union with, or having links to terrorist organizations. Apart from individuals, institutions allegedly affiliated with or supporting terrorist groups (including, among others, universities, schools, dormitories, media outlets, and business conglomerates) have been closed downand their holdings seized or transferred to the state.Most recently, parliamentarians belonging to the Peoples’ Democratic Party (HDP), including the two co-heads of the Party, and journalists writing for the daily Cumhuriyet, known for its critical stance on the government and Erdoğan, have been arrested. On top of this, soon after the coup attempt, a debate on reintroducing the death penalty started, with President Erdoğan repeatedly holding that he would sign respective changes into law if confronted with amendments by the Turkish Parliament. In mid-November, the President reiterated his stance and indicated there could be a referendum on the topic (see Diken2016).
Against such a backdrop, it did not come as a surprise that the latest progress report published by the EU Commission identified a backslidingof the countryregarding the independence of the judiciary, “serious backsliding” in terms of freedom of expression, and a deteriorating human rights situation, including “backsliding on the prevention of torture and ill-treatment[emphasis in original]” (see EU Commission 2016a, 70). When presenting the assessments of the EU Commissionon progress made by candidate countries to the press, the EU’s Commissioner in charge of enlargement, Johannes Hahn, pointed out that an “already very problematic situation has been further exacerbated by many of the measures taken since July,the scale and collective nature of which give cause for very serious concerns”(EU Commission 2016b).On the one hand, he called on Turkey’s decision-makers to make up their mind on the future of the relationship with the EU and inform the Union what they wanted. On the other hand, he held that the progress report was “a wake-up call for Member States[emphasis in original], too, to start an open discussion without any taboo[emphasis in original]on our future relationship with Turkey” (ibid.). Given the findings of the report, they could not “continue ‘business as usual’”, Hahn asserted (ibid.).
Only days later, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, told the German daily Bild(2016) that, given the developments in Turkey, they would have to elaborate on potential economic measures and questioned whether the terms of the Customs Union established back in 1995 could be adapted as previously intended. Moreover, he reiterated the stance that Turkey would clearly cross a red-line, leading to a termination of accession negotiations, if it indeed reintroduced capital punishment. In fact, the issue of halting accession talks with Turkey popped up soon after the foiled coup attempt. Most recently, European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey, Kati Piri, also called for suspending accession negotiations. Nevertheless, the Union has so far opted against taking this route, with the Foreign Affairs Council criticizing developments in Turkey but refraining from pushing for a suspension during a meeting on 14 November 2016 (Euractive 2016). Most prominently, Great Britain and Germany reportedly voiced opposition to the idea, which has been brought forward by Austria on many occasions after the foiled coup attempt (ibid.).
The Turkish leadership has, on the other side, been complaining that its European partners fail to understand the extent of the threat Turkey is confronted with and that they do not support Turkey in its fight against terrorism adequately. The Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator, ÖmerÇelik, for instance, asserted that those parts of the abovementioned progress report relating to political criteria, the judiciary, and fundamental rights were far from being objective and reflecting the facts (see Ministry for EU Affairs 2016b). Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu sharply criticized the EU during a joint press conference with the German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeierand held that the Turks were “frustrated by the European Union’s ‘hypocrisy and double standards’ toward Turkey” (HDN 2016). Çavuşoğlu reiterated the claim made by President Erdoğan that Germany was a safe haven for terrorists – first and foremost for Gülenists and PKK-members – and called upon the German government to extradite them. What is more, Çavuşoğlu also brought up the option of holding a referendum on the question of continuing or quitting accession negotiations. The day before, President Erdoğan had sharply criticized EP-President Martin Schulz for bringing up the issue of economic sanctions against Turkey and suggesting that the reintroduction of the death penalty would put an end to latter’s accession process. He called upon the EU to make up its mind on Turkey’s membership process and suggested that they should wait till the end of the year (2016) and hold a referendum on the topic thereafter (Çelikkan 2016).
To cut a long story short, the relationship between Turkey and the EU hasobviously reached another low after the foiled coup d’état of mid-July 2016. Even though neither side has yet opted for walking out of the accession negotiations, the likelihood of such a scenario finally materializing has never been as high ever since accession negotiations started in 2005. This is not to say though that EU-Turkey relations never experienced crises before or that the accession process was promising in the period preceding the coup attempt and Turkey was bound to become a full-member with the Union. To the contrary, what we have been experiencing since mid-July 2016 could be viewed as a process marked by genuine uncertainties and intrinsic impediments and difficulties being further challenged and undermined by tragic and alarming developments in Turkey.
An Inherently Difficult Relationship with Ups and Downs
In fact, when President Erdoğan and Foreign Minister Çavuşoğlu raised the option of referring the decision on continuing or quitting accession talks with the EU to the people in early November 2016, this was not the first time that the Turkish part signaled preparedness to walk out of the talks and showed it did not rule out taking the initiative.On the day of the Brexit vote in the UK, President Erdoğan was to join the ranks of referenda-enthusiasts and declare that Turkey might also hold a vote on the topic(BBC Türkçe 2016). The President accused the EU of stalling and not being sincere about admitting Turkey, first and foremost, because the majority of the Turkish population were Muslims; something that he had also been told by a former French foreign minister, Erdoğan added, declining to disclose the identity of the French minister, though. No matter to what extent the question of religion has played into decision-making on the part of EU countries and shaped public attitude relating to the Turkish question, it goes without saying that the accession process of Turkey has so far been a trial of patience at best and a display of insincerity and lack of commitment on the part of many parties involved at worst, leading also to frustration and disenchantment in the Turkish public whose support for EU membership has neither been constant nor unconditional.
The Association Agreement between the then European Economic Community and Turkey was signed back in 1963. While its full-membership bid of 1987 was first turned down, the country’s eligibility for membership as such was recognized (see, for instance, Tocci 2014, 2). Moroever, a Customs Union between the Union and Turkey was established in 1995. It was only in 1999 that the country was granted candidate status. Another six years, however, passed before accession negotiations started in 2005. Nonetheless, in spite of the decision to enter into accession talks with Turkey, neither at this point nor at a later point of time was the Union able to provide a clear, convincing, and unambiguous answer to the question as to whether Turkey would ever be admitted, even in case it fulfilled all accession criteria. Instead, in deviation from previous practice, the “negotiating framework document” issued on 3 October 2015 unequivocally held that the negotiations were open-ended, “the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand” (Negotiating Framework 2005), at the same time, noting that accession constituted the “shared objective of negotiations” (ibid.). Furthermore, should Turkey backtrack on democratic reform, for instance, the talks could be suspended (Akbulut 2005, 11; Kramer 2013, 81). In addition, the document already incorporated the potential of long “transitional periods, derogations, specific arrangements or permanent safeguard clauses[emphasis added]” being installed in case of Turkish admission (Negotiating Framework 2005), thus implying that this could be some kind of a “devaluated” membership.
Reviewing Turkey’s accession process and pointing out a number of peculiarities specific to Turkey, Heinz Kramer refers to Turkey as a Sonderfall (i.e. an exceptional case; see Kramer 2013). Comparing the accession timelines of various candidate countries, Tocci (2014, 3), too, notes that “Turkey clearly stands in a league of its own.” Against such a background and given the unresolved Cyprus issue, it comes as no big surprise that accession negotiations with Turkey have not made much headway in more than a decade’s time. Negotiations have started on 16 chapters. As of mid-November 2016, only one chapter has been provisionally closed. As Turkey has so far refused to apply the Additional Protocol in the case of the Republic of Cyprus ̶ that it does not recognize ̶ and accordingly open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot vessels, no additional chapters can be provisionally closed while eight chapters cannot be subjected to negotiations. What makes the situation worse from Turkish perspective is that the Greek Cypriots unilaterally block negotiations on six further chapters. On top of this, as former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been a proponent of a special partnership short of full-membership for Turkey, those chapters that France deemed relevant only for those countries eligible for full-membership were vetoed, too (see Kramer 2013, 79). When François Hollande succeeded Sarkozy as President, France partially revised its policy and lifted its veto against negotiations on three chapters; however, French veto on two further chapters has not been lifted yet (Akbulut 2014, 4; see also Ülgen 2012).
Parallel to the lack of enthusiasm on part of EU publics and politicians to admit Turkey into the Union and the Cyprus dispute hampering the accession process, developments in and around Turkey have not been conducive either. While bemoaning alleged European double-standards, insincerity, and hypocrisy all over the years, Turkey’s rulers have, at the same time, displayed no enthusiasm to implement necessary reforms to beef up the country’s democratic record in an effort to align with European standards and later to meet the Copenhagen criteria. Things were to change considerably after 1999 when Turkey was declared a candidate country and Ankara embarked on a zealous reform program, which was further reinforced when the AKP took over the government in late 2002.Consequently, the EU Commission issued a report in October 2004 stating that “[i]n view of the overall progress of reforms attained and provided that Turkey brings into force the outstanding legislation […], the Commission considers that Turkey sufficiently fulfils the political criteria and recommends that accession negotiations be opened” (EU Commission 2004b, 2). As Turkey adopted the legislation required (“enhancing human rights and the functioning of the judiciary”, EU Commission 2005, 4) and signed a Protocol with a view to extending its Association Agreement with the Union to all new member-states, including the Republic of Cyprus, negotiations started in October 2005 in spite of some foot-dragging on part of the Austrian government.
However, Turkey’s democratic record had already been deteriorating seriously in the period preceding the coup attempt, with the government limiting the freedom of the media, undermining the separation of powers, and curbing the independence of the judiciary. The peace process with the PKK – which is listed as a terrorist organization by the EU and the US as well – had already unraveled with fighting breaking out anew in the summer of 2015, escalating over months and being carried into towns and cities in Southeastern Turkey. Not only a great number of security personnel and PKK fighters have been killed, but reportedly also hundreds of civilians (ICG 2016, 1). Furthermore, around 350,000 civilians had to leave their homes in the face of the fighting and weeks-long curfews in their neighborhoods (ibid.). At the same time, bombings carried out by the PKK and the so-called Islamic State in big cities such as Istanbul, Ankara, and Bursa also left hundreds dead or wounded. Moreover, the government had declared war on the Gülen movementafter members of the AKP-government were confronted with allegations of corruption and bribery and the sons of three ministers (among others) were detainedin a raid carried out in December 2013. According to media reports, another raid ordered by the prosecutor, which would also have seen the son of the then Prime Minister and current President Erdoğan being interrogated, could not be carried out because the police refused to implement the respective order (Hamsici 2014). The government denied the claims, accused the Gülen movement of having infiltrated the state and built up “parallel structures,” at the same time, orchestrating efforts to topple the elected government. Consequently, the purge campaign to remove alleged members of the movement from the judiciary and the police had already started before the foiled coup attempt of July 2016 that left many killed and wounded. President Erdoğan and the government blamed the Gülen movement and widely expanded purges of allegedGülenist cadres and putschists as noted above.
Overall, the “golden age” of democratic reform and political stability in Turkey has given way to an era marked by an erosion of progress made in terms of democracy, fundamental rights, and freedoms. President Erdoğan’s grasp on power, the AKP, and the state have exacerbated political instability and unpredictability against the backdrop of a region in turmoil. The lifting of the immunities of MPs mainly but not exclusively from the HDP and also the sudden move to force Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu out of office followed by the installation of BinaliYıldırım as the new Prime Minister can be cited as cases in point. The latter has explicitly declared that he will be vigorously pursuing the goal of turning Turkey’s parliamentary system into a presidential one, which, if implemented, would most likely see Erdoğan’s rule consolidated and further alienate Turkey from democratic governance. The situation, of course, got even worse with the coup attempt and the developments thereafter summarized above.
To cut it short, even if one ignored the negative or rejectionist attitude towards Turkey in most EU countries, Turkey’s rulers’ choices and practice have neither been conducive for Turkey’s accession process. Moreover, an ambivalent attitude towards the EU, on the one hand, associating the latter with higher democratic and living standards, while, on the other, viewing it almost as a villain relentlessly working and conspiring to weaken and divide Turkey, consequently barring its way to new heights and positioning itself as a global player, seems to be pervasive in major parts of society; anti-EU rhetoric and EU-bashing on part of Erdoğan and other politicians work to further reinforce such an ambivalent conception and perception of the EU. Overall, the desire to be part of the West and join the EU has usually coexisted alongside a high level of skepticism and distrust towards the West as well as a sense of being excluded. Erozan (2009) pointing to such ambivalence and highlighting that support for EU membership and trust in the EU has been varying between 35 to 70 percent over the years,notes that „[t]he West is loved and cursed; glorified and maligned; followed and resisted“ and argues that “[s]uccinctly put, the historical ambivalence continues” (Erozan 2009, 4, 5).
It goes without saying that the negative trajectory of developments in Turkey, in its neighborhood, as well as the negative mood within the EU do not foreclose the option of EU-Turkish relations seeing some improvement at some point, should the same domestic and international conditions turn more conducive. In fact, there have always been ups and downs in Turkey‘s relationship with the EU; there have been periods of engagement, but also those of estrangement. Following a period of alienation and stagnation, EU-Turkish relations gained some momentum with the signing of a Readmission Agreement in late 2013 and the initiation of dialogue on visa-free travel for Turkish citizens into the Schengen area, for instance. Moreover, the EU and Turkey launched a high-level dialogue on the topic of energy and decided to enter into talks on the reform of the Customs Union. Their relations were further reinforced and revitalized in the face of the Syrian crisis and its repercussions. Given high numbers of Syrians (among others) seeking refuge in Turkey and several EU countries, both parties sought closer cooperation and coordination. Apart from specific measures adopted to reduce the number of refugeesreaching Greece via Turkey, the EU and Turkey also concurred on “revitalizing” Turkey’s accession process, expanding and enhancing political and economic dialogue, and granting Turkish citizens visa-free travel to the Schengen area sooner than initially planned provided Turkey met necessary criteria.
In sum, however, the implications of the Syrian crisis and the refugee issue have been of a mixed nature. While moving the two parties together and underscoring the geopolitical significance of Turkey, on the one hand, the developments inSyria and their repercussions can also be expected to have reinforced the idea of a privileged partnership with a country which should be maintained as a buffer between Europe and a conflict torn area rather than being admitted into the Union as a full-member. Moreover, the deal has also given the two parties more to fight over: As Turkey has refused to adapt its anti-terrorism laws, the EU didnot lift visa requirements for Turkish citizens by the end of June 2016 either. On many instances, Ankara reiterated that it would quit the refugee deal should the visa requirement remain in place. At the same time, Turkish officials ‒ first and foremost, President Erdoğan ‒ have been sharplycriticizing the EU for allegedly not living up to financial commitmentsmade within the framework of the refugee deal; in the first instance, they have been bemoaning the pace with which financial aid has been disbursed.
Overall, the EU seeking closer cooperation with Turkey and the subsequent agreement to “revitalize” the accession process were not conditioned by a reassessment of Turkey‘s membership-bid on part of EU governments. They were brought about by necessity rather than by choice. The circumstance that the EU agreed to opening two additional chapters and Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, known for being a major proponent of a privileged partnership with Turkey, acted as one of the main driving forces behind the refugee deal, did not change the fact that the main characteristics of the EU-Turkey relationship remained the same; the same uncertainties, problems and impediments outlined aboveremained in place. What was true before the coup attempt is, of course, even more so in its aftermath.
Adverse Implications of the Turkish Question
The argument to be made is that Turkish membership in the EU seems elusive from today’s perspective for manifold reasons. Notwithstanding the significance and the added-value of close relations, cooperation, coordination, and some level of association between the EU and Turkey, which the ongoing refugee crisis has once again highlighted, pursuing goals that both parties do not view as feasible is seemingly having adverse implications for the EU as well as Turkey and currently works to deepen the divide rather than moving them closer to each other. Most significantly, it plays into the hands of EU-sceptics and rightist populists. Neither questioning the European integration project, nor criticizing certain aspects thereof, or specifically objecting to Turkish membership can be viewed or assessed as politically incorrect or democratically invalid. However, the Turkish question is usually being blown out of proportions and the impression created as if Turkish accession was imminent, implying a sense of urgency and a need for immediate counter-action. Rather than having a sober debate on the merits of the European integration project, the Turkish question is being captured, dramatized, and prioritized in relevant debates.
The Brexit campaign in Great Britain was illustrative in this sense. The pro-Brexit camp widely capitalized on the Turkish question to make its case. Potential Turkish membership in the Union, for instance, ranked 9th among Telegraph’s “20 reasonsyou should vote to leave the European Union” under the heading “We wouldn’t have to worry about Turkey”(Telegraph 2016). Summarizing the arguments of the Leave campaign, the BBC reported that a“million Turks could potentially come to the UK within eight years of joining, they have claimed, a scale of migration that would run the risk of enabling murderers, terrorists and kidnappers to enter the country” (BBC 2016). Prime Minister David Cameron’s counter-argument was simply that Turkish membership was unlikely to materialize before the year 3000; a rather half-hearted argument for the Prime Minister of a country where governments have traditionally been supportive of Turkey’s admission to the Union. Moreover, Cameron reminded the public that, at the end of the day, Britain as any other EU member had a veto over the issue and could “even at that stage […] say no” (BBC 2016).
Ultimately, in June 2016, around 52 percent of Brits casted a vote in favor of leaving the EU, which sent out shockwaves throughout the European continent and beyond. Not only the future state and mode of Britain’s relations with the EUseemed to be in limbo, but ̶ given the Scottish vote against Brexit and respective arguments for opting out of the Kingdom rather than the EU ̶ also the future of the United Kingdom as such and even of the entire European integration project. At the end of the day, rightist populists and EU sceptics elsewhere were raising their voices and making their case for referenda in their countries; see for instance the presidential candidate of the Austrian Freedom Party (FPÖ), Norbert Hofer, who raised the option of “Öxit” – that is, Austria exiting the EU – should the EU develop into a centralistic union or Turkey eventually join (see Schröder 2016). Europe could not cope with Turkish accession, Hofer has been arguing.Consequently, the Austrian people should be asked as to whether they still wanted to remain in the EU if such “extreme” scenarios materialized (see also Pink 2016). Unsurprisingly, the FPÖ has traditionally been a vociferous opponent of Turkish accession in a country where the majority of the public opposes further enlargement of the EU and an even greater share clearly rejects the idea of an eventual Turkish membership. In 2010, for instance, 67 percent of Austrians opposed further EU enlargement (EU Commission 2011, 60). Unfortunately, the Eurobarometer of 2010 does not provide specific data on Austrian attitudes relating to the issue of Turkey’s membership. However, such information can be drawn from surveys commissioned by the Austrian Society for European Politics (ÖGFE) in the period 2010 to 2015. According to the data set provided, in 2010, 69 percent of Austrian public objected to Turkish membership while the share of membership opponents peaked in 2014 reaching 84 percent and declining to 75 percent in 2015 (ÖGFE 2015).
Overall, both in Austria and the UK, abovementioned actors have linked the question of staying within or leaving the EU (among others) to the trajectory of the relationship between the EU and Turkey. Moreover, as the case of Austria shows, the question of Turkish EU-membership turns into one of the major topics during election times as if the issue had such an imminent pervasive effect on people’s lives and in spite of the fact that Turkey’s chances of becoming a full-member are virtually almost zero. Against such a background, the handling of the Turkish question can be assumed to not only undermine the credibility and trustworthiness of the EU in the eyes of Turkish policy-makers and population, but also to decrease the level of trust in European decision-makers on part of European publics for their inability to provide a clear-cut answer to the Turkish question and their failure to bring the “Turkish issue” to a solution. On top of all this, it seems plausible to assume that the “cannibalization” of the Turkish question has a negative effect on the relationship between the Turkish communities in Europe and majority societies, consequently contributing to estrangement and divide. A clear-cut and unequivocal answer to the Turkish question would most likely not only put an end to the uncertainty felt in Turkey, but also to the one existent in many EU countries. It would to some extent help to disarm rightist populists and avoid artificial, but consuming debates.
A Building-Blocs-Approach as an Alternative to Full-Membership
As the prospects for Turkish full-membership are virtually almost zero and the Turkish question is having adverse implications, exploring potential alternatives to full-membership seems worthwhile. A negotiated or consensual agreement between the EU and Turkey to quit the accession process and instead deepen and expand relations building on already existing elements of a “special partnership” can be assumed to be more beneficial to both parties. The Customs Union is certainly the most apparent and significant element of this special partnership already in place and could, once reformed, form the basis of what could be termed an “Enhanced Special Partnership” (ESP) to evolve. This would be a flexible, step-by-step approach, where additional building blocks could be added to already existing ones without working towards a predefined target or following a fixed timetable. Insofar, this would have an “open-ended” character as in the case of accession negotiations. Depending on developments and choices on both sides or the broader context, the number of building blocks might see a substantial rise reflecting a horizontal and vertical expansion of the relationship. The opposite could as well happen and no further blocks be added to the ones existing at the outset; that is the reformed Customs Union. Given Turkey’s NATO membership, the Berlin Plus modalities for cooperation between NATO and the EU, and the security interdependence between the two parties, cooperation in defense and security issues could constitute a further building block. Finally, yet importantly, cooperation in the field of energy is unquestionably another area, where cooperation is seen as essential. Correspondingly, the two parties launched the “Turkey-EU High Level Energy Dialogue” in 2015 in an effort “to cooperate further for securing and diversifying their energy supplies and for ensuring competitive energy markets” (European Commission 2015). Correspondingly, a “strategic energy partnership” might constitute another building block of an ESP. Overall, this would be a dynamic evolutionary model rather than a fixed one.
At this point, returning to the agreement on visa liberalization and the readmission of “irregular immigrants” seems necessary and worthwhile for the list of requirements Turkey needs to meet before visa-free travel into Schengen countries is possible incorporates elements going beyond immigration regulation or easing travel restrictions. The benchmarks Turkey needs to fulfill also relate to fundamental rights, to anti-corruption and anti-laundering measures, to work to prevent and fight cybercrime, or even to the implementation of conventions to enhance the protection of children. So far, the EU has refrained from lifting the visa requirement given the Turkish refusal to adapt its anti-terror laws. However, Turkey has not ruled out such an adaptation for the future. Thus, this specific topic highlights the potentials for creating and applying conditionality for the EU within the framework of such a “building blocks” approach. Unquestionably, in the absence of a credible accession process, one of the major questions would be how the EU could still act as an anchor and catalyst for democratic reform. It is obvious that the EU has not been able to play such a constructive role in recent years for manifold reasons, but also because there no longer existed a credible perspective for accession. However, the case of visa liberalization shows that tit-for-tat strategies and conditionality can be applied in a smaller context, within the framework of specific issue areas as well, notwithstanding the fact that Turkey has so far refused to fulfil some benchmarks. The question whether and how effectively such conditionality could be created and employed within the framework of other building blocks with a view to creating an impetus for reform or as a safeguard against backsliding on relevant topics thus constitutes a major aspect that needs to be given greater thought.
Obviously, these are extremely general ideas relating to the question as to how EU-Turkish relations could take shape outside an accession process. Moreover, the concept of a special partnership is not new. It is worth remembering debates on a “privileged partnership” with Turkey, mainly promoted by German Christian Democrats and Chancellor Angela Merkel. “Rather than simply shutting the door, […] Europe should start thinking seriously about new frameworks for cooperation with outside states: arrangements that would bring maximum benefits to all sides without endangering the EU itself. This is what is meant by a ‘privileged partnership,’ and this is what should be considered for Turkey,” Wolfgang Shäuble, currently German Federal Minister of Finance, for instance, wrote back in 2004 (Schauble/Philips 2004). However, even though the idea of outlining alternatives to full-membership, mainly coined “privileged partnership” is not new, detailed concepts or proposals are something of a rarity. Correspondingly, Pope (2009) writing back in 2009 held that “little perceptible intellectual effort has gone into the concept.” Of course, some additional work on the topic was done after 2009; see for instance the concept of a “virtual EU membership for Turkey” put forward by Ülgen (2012). Yet, there seems to be need for additional thinking and work on the topic; also because the context has completely changed since 2004 when the Christian Democrats pushed the idea of a privileged partnership (the crises and wars in the Middle East, the ensuing refugee crisis, IS terror manipulating public attitude in Europe towards Muslims, including Turks, rising enlargement fatigue, the attempted coup d’état in Turkey, and Britain’s vote to leave the Union can, for instance, all be cited as major developments in recent months and years that can be expected to play into the policies and attitudes of both Turkey and the EU (or EU countries)).
So, a reassessment of the topic and the discussion of a viable and credible alternative to Turkish full-membership in the EU seems necessary. Consequently, further work is required to explore the acceptability of such a buildings-block-approach to the publics, decision-makers, and various stakeholders in the EU and Turkey, and analyze the wider political and economic implications of such an approach in detail.
Creating Incentives Rather than Riding a Dead Horse
What can make sense in the mid- to long-term, might, however, not be the best thing to do in the short-term. Starting to remodel the EU-Turkey relationship at a crisis time might not be the best choice and might indeed cause more harm than good. At the end of the day, the starting point for a buildings-blocks-approach would be a consensus between the two parties that they no longer wish to go the path of accession negotiations and want to engage in a constructive dialogue on alternatives. The current situation, though, does not seem conducive for creating a joint long-term vision.
What is more pressing, however, is the need to give an answer to the question whether it would be a good thing for the EU to suspend negotiations with Turkey and define the terms for their resumption. On the basis of what has been said above, it seems justified to claim that suspending talks in an effort to make Turkey change its policies and behavior would more or less resemble an attempt to ride a dead horse. The talks have been going on for so many years and have not made much headway. No chapters can be closed while 15 out of 35 are subject to blockades. On top of that, in the summer of 2016, Austria declared it would veto the opening of any additional chapters. So, why would Turkey change anything to return to a process that is going nowhere? Of course, suspending the talks would be of symbolic value, deliver a clear political message, and cause some reputational costs for Turkey. Yet, is there any uncertainty or any nebulosity pertaining to the EU’s positions and preferences relating to the developments in Turkey? – Most certainly, not.Moreover, given the record of developments in the past months, is there any reason to assume that Turkey’s decision-makers are currently caring about potential reputational costs abroad? – Again, the answer to be given is, no! To the contrary, suspending the talks would most likely feed anti-EU sentiment and play into the hands of President Erdoğan in his “blame and shame the EU” campaign.
Consequently, rather than suspending the talks, creating incentives might prove more effective. The case of visa liberalization might constitute a model worth copying. Obviously, the linkage between adapting anti-terror-laws and lifting the visa-requirement has not produced the desired results yet. However, Turkey has not ruled out making changes to its laws. The Turkish suggestion has been recently to bring in the Council of Europe as an honest broker and work out an action plan detailing the steps to be taken by Turkey in an effort to bring its anti-terrorism laws into line with European standards (Habertürk 2016; Hürriyet 2016).Turkey’s Chief Negotiator ÖmerÇelik stated already in early September that Turkey could discuss changes that could be made at a future point of time with the Council of Europe and undertake relevant commitments (Ministry for EU Affairs 2016a). Meanwhile, the EU would lift the visa requirement; i.e. at the onset of this process, not at its completion, the Turkish suggestion goes. It is plausible to assume that the Council would also monitor the implementation of the action plan and report on the steps taken by Turkey should an agreement on this formula indeed materialize.
The need for Turkey to narrow down the scope of its anti-terror laws is obvious and should better happen today rather than tomorrow. However, given the fact that the EU has no power to impose any formula, would it not be better to stick to a work plan with clearly defined steps to be taken in a clearly defined tight timeframe? The lifting of the visa requirement would be conditional and could be suspended or rolled back should Turkey not abide by the terms of the work plan agreed upon. The Council of Europe could monitor the process, report on its implementation and on any eventual breaches by Turkey, which would provide the ground for the EU to reinstate the visa obligation. This would not only help to limit the scope of Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws, render it easier for Turkish citizens to visit Europe, but overall help to ease tensions and improve the atmosphere. Things would, of course, change completely should Turkey renege on the deal and not abide by the action plan. In such a case, however, it would not be impossible, but, at least, much more difficult for the Turkish side to put the blame on the EU and successfully sell such a failure to the public.
The same procedure could, for instance, be applied with regard to the reform of the Customs Union. As noted above, the President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, questioned as to whether it would be possible to expand or deepen the Customs Union given the developments in Turkey. Even though his remarks were interpreted as a threat to impose economic sanctions on Turkey, Schulz has only been referring to economic measures. Rather than scrapping anything or rolling anything back, what Schulz seems to have meant is stopping any expansion or deepening of the relationship. Indeed, it would be incomprehensible if the EU insisted on a reform of the anti-terror laws, rang the bells over democratic backsliding in Turkey, and, at the same time, reformed the Customs Unions taking into account Turkish wishes and preferences. However, the EU could bring in conditionality here again and tie the question of Customs Union reform to legal reforms in Turkey with a view to improving the country’s democratic record. The Council of Europe could again contribute to such a proceeding bringing in its expertise, facilitating exchange between the two parties, and monitoring the implementation of any eventual work packages.
Of course, what sounds simple and feasible in theory, might prove impossible in practice. However, at the end of the day, there are no guarantees in international politics, but – most of the time mixed –stories of success and failure. Nonetheless, EU’s most effective instrument has usually been that of conditionality. It might be worth employing this instrument again creating incentives for action – both in the short as well as in the long term.
But what if Turkey reintroduced capital punishment? The EU has clearly drawn a red-line and communicated this to Turkey. It is up to Turkey to make up its mind and to cross or not to cross this line. There is no misunderstanding about the consequences of such a move. However, while it cannot be simply ruled out that Turkey ultimately introduces the death penalty, the argument to be made here is that this constitutes an unlikely scenario. Even if such a scenario materialized, this would put an end to the accession process and significantly burden relations, but still not eliminate the need to find new pathways for communication and cooperation.
The author is greatly indebted to Sandra Hain for proofreading this paper.
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The coup attempt left 241 people dead and another 2196 wounded (EU Commission 2016a, 8).
 Justice and Development Party
According to the Progress Report published by the EU Commission on 9 November 2016, “as of the end of September 2016, some 40 000 people had been detained and more than 31 000 remain under arrest, including 81 journalists. 129 000 public employees remain either suspended (66 000) or have been dismissed (63 000). Over 4 000 institutions and private companies were shut down, their assets seized or transferred to public institutions. Additional 10 000 civil servants were dismissed by decrees under the state of emergency at the end of October and further media outlets closed and journalists detained” (EU Commission 2016a, 9).
Schulz, in fact, referred to economic measures rather than sanctions in the interview.
 Previously, his predecessor in office, Abdullah Gül, had noted that Turkey, too, would hold a referendum on joining the EU once the negotiation process was completed (see Rettman 2014). “We don’t know what the people will say. We could end up like Norway [an EU partner, but not a member state; note in original]. We don’t know yet … We are in no hurry,” Gül reportedly held (quoted in Rettman 2014).
 Back in 2012, Erdoğan had stated that the EU would lose Turkey if the country was not admitted into the Union by 2023 which marks the centenary of the Republic’s founding (see Çoskun2012).
 From Turkish perspective, there is only a Greek Cypriot Administration in charge of the affairs of Southern Cyprus. Turkey has been the only country so far to recognize the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. In contrast, from a Greek Cypriot perspective, around one third of the territory of the Republic has been under Turkish occupation since 1974, which pretty much explains them blocking negotiations.
The progress report of the EU Commission of October 2004 holds that the “decision of the European Council in Helsinki in December 1999 that Turkey is acandidate for membership has proved to be a robust catalyst for Turkey to embark upon a process of far-reaching constitutional and legislative reforms. Following decades ofsporadic progress and partly because of a political consolidation after the 2002 elections,there has been a substantial institutional convergence in Turkey towards Europeanstandards. Political reforms have introduced changes ranging from improved civilliberties and human rights to enhanced civilian control of the military. Civil society hasgrown stronger. The reform process has clearly addressed major issues and, importantly,highlighted a growing consensus in favour of liberal democracy” (EU Commission 2004a, 14-15).
Turkey in return accepted to fully apply the Readmission Agreement sooner than previously agreed upon.
Illustrative is also the case of Boris Johnson, one of the lead figures of the leave campaign. Holding that “Turkey became the natural pick to serve as the Brexit campaign’s boogeyman,” Kirişci (2016) notes that it is “ironic that Boris Johnson – a great-grandson of an Ottoman minister and someone who has previously spoken proudly of his Turkish heritage – would succumb to Turkey-the-boogeyman scare tactics. But he has high political ambitions, which include chipping away at Prime Minister David Cameron’s leadership of the Conservative Party, and Johnson now seems to prefer pandering to populist, euro-sceptic forces.” Note, however, that Johnson in the end became Foreign Minister.
Hofer had indeed demanded on many occasions before the Brexit vote that Austria should leave the Union in case of Turkish accession.
 It is worth reminding at this point that Austria declared that there would be a referendum on Turkish accession should the negotiations process be completed, something that the incumbent Chancellor, Christian Kern, reiterated after the Brexit vote (see Kurier 2016).
 The choice for this formulation was inspired by NATO jargon.
 This language and the proposed approach are inspired by debates relating to nuclear disarmament and nonproliferation.
 In fact, it was Council of Europe’s Secretary General Thorbjørn Jagland to note in an interview in May 2016 that the Council of Europe might facilitate the solution of the dispute on Turkey’s anti-terrorism laws. The Secretary General held that “Turkey has concrete obligations towards the CoE on the terrorism legislation related to freedom of expression. I am talking now about the judgement from the Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg which has handed down a number of judgments related to this. So, here, Turkey has obligations to implement these judgments and accordingly change legislations and judicial practices. We are not a apart of he [EU-Turkey] deal, but what we can say is that the judgement can be helpful for finding a solution to the dispute between the EU and Turkey” (quoted in Petrov 2016).