Tayyip Erdogan changes tone towards EU

Tayyip Erdogan changes tone towards EU

ANKARA -- Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan delivered warm messages towards the European Union this week after a year of particularly strained relations between the two sides.

"I always say this, We are compelled to reduce the number of foes and increase the number of friends. We have no problems with Germany, the Netherlands or Belgium. On the contrary, those who are in the governments of these countries are my old friends," Erdogan told journalists on Thursday during a tour of African countries.

There might be official visits to France and Vatican in the coming months as there have been positive signals and easing of strained relations, he said.

His comments came after recent remarks by German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte encouraging positive relations with Turkey.

Gabriel said earlier this week that the EU should seek new ways of dealing with Turkey.

According to Gabriel, the EU needs to find "alternative" ways of creating closer cooperation and partnerships with both Turkey and Ukraine as both countries are unlikely to join the 28-member bloc in the foreseeable future.

Rutte said on Dec. 23 that the "cold relations" between the Netherlands and Turkey should be fixed.

"I think it would be good if relations with Turkey could improve. Turkey is a NATO partner," he told Dutch daily De Telegraaf in an interview.

Turkey and the EU have had an ongoing spat since 2016 after Brussels expressed strong criticism of Ankara over mass arrests in the country, connected with the failed coup attempt in July 2016.

Turkey is a candidate member to the bloc since 1999 but its accession negotiation launched in 2005 did not go far because of several member countries' direct or indirect opposition to the Muslim nation's entry to the Union.

The emergency rule and the massive crackdown imposed after the botched coup also had a very negative effect on these negotiations that have been officially halted.

Turkey-EU ties took a hard blow in November 2016, when the European Parliament suspended Turkish accession talks, following a constitutional referendum expanding powers of president in April 2017, which prompted the EU to vote to reopen the monitoring process against Turkey.

Ankara accused EU of harboring "terrorists," suspected coup plotters who took refuge or asylum in several European countries, and Erdogan, for his part, declared that Turkey had "kept waiting at Europe's door for far too long" and did not need EU membership anymore.

Recently the Jerusalem issue seem to have generated a rapprochement opportunity between Brussels and Ankara.

In this context, Erdogan noted that his last contacts with German and Dutch leaders, whose countries he accused in the past of "Nazi practices," were "quite good especially regarding the Jerusalem issue.

"We had problems, but our latest meetings have gone very well. I asked for their support on Jerusalem; we are all on the same page. I have called (German President Frank Walter) Steinmeier to thank him. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte sent some signals to improve ties with us. These are satisfactory. We, of course, hope to have good ties with the EU and EU countries," Erdogan emphasized.

The seemingly warming of relations is something that most experts are supporting in Turkey at a time when Ankara's ties with its traditional NATO ally, the United States, is also souring.

"The right choice for Turkey is definitely the EU, not the United States or Russia," the latter with whom Turkey has enjoyed close ties in the recent year, wrote Emre Gonen from Istanbul's Bilgi University in Sabah Daily.

"At a time when the 'greatest' democracy in the world, the United States, is moving away from democratic principles, it is high time for Turkey and the EU to get closer based on transparency and cooperation," argued Gonen.

Experts believe that Turkey has to deliver strong determination to return to a full democracy and European human rights standards as soon as possible.

For the relations to go back to track, "Turkey should recover its self confidence and return from an extraordinary situation to a normal one," told Xinhua EU expert Dr. Bahadir Kaleagasi.

"The next accession report of the European Commission is set to be published in April, Turkey still has time until then to lift the emergency rule," said Kaleagasi, CEO of Turkey's leading business and industry group TUSIAD.

Nevertheless, in order to do so, Turkey will have to realign with European democratic norm and regulations and convince its people of the need to return to the roots to unlock the actual situation for a visa liberation that Turks are been waiting for so long.

And this is not an easy task as roughly 69 percent of the Turkish population does not believe in Turkey's accession to the EU soon, according to a recent survey conducted by the Turkish Economic Development Foundation (IKV).

Only 31 percent of Turks believe that their country may become a full member, according to this survey.

"There is lack of trust in both camps, but we feel sure that this can be amended with increased dialogue," a senior European diplomat told Xinhua on condition of anonymity, adding that however, "the rule of law" should be fully implemented, in a reference to the lifting of the emergency rule in Turkey.

"The EU project plays an essential part in Turkey's global leadership ambitions" nourished by Erdogan, argued Kaleagasi.