Syrian Refugee Crisis: Turkey-EU relations – the return of realpolitik?

13 October 2015

EFD Senior Policy Adviser, Dr Demir Murat Seyrek, writes about EU-Turkey relations in the midst of the upcoming 1 November elections in Turkey. Discussions of Turkey's EU membership have been put on hold for the time being, due to the EU's focus turning to other matters at hand, including Russia, the refugee crisis, the rise of the far-right and growing Euroscepticism. Turkey as well has been preoccupied with its own burdens, including the more than two million refugees now residing within its territory. Although the EU's lack of attention and support for Turkey in the past few years has created somewhat of a "trust deficit," pressing issues mean that both the EU and Turkey need to rely on one another more than ever.

The Syrian crisis in particular has been a wake-up call for the EU on the importance of maintaining dialogue and cooperation with Turkey, writes Dr Seyrek. As the Turkish people head to the polls on 1 November, Erdogan requires support for his Syrian strategy, including financial and humanitarian support for refugees, as well as some kind of visible political success story to bolster his chances of reelection. Erdogan's recent visit to Brussels, aimed at securing an issue-based cooperation strategy to address their shared predicaments, has demonstrated that the EU is willing to overlook Turkey's human rights violations and other infractions for the time being. While these meetings have indeed laid the groundwork for increased cooperation, this look-the-other-way approach is considered shocking for many throughout the institutions.

Dr Seyrek argues that although many may consider this to be hypocrisy, it is actually a classic case of realpolitik, potentially bringing mutually beneficial results for both Turkey and the EU. Dr Seyrek forewarns, however, that the EU must proceed with caution or its increasing need to rely on Turkey and the implementation of its action plan may have a significant impact on the election result.

The article is in English and can be read here.