By: Barçın Yinanç*
France’s new consul general to Istanbul, Bertrand Buchwalter, lived twice in Turkey before being appointed to his last post. He came to Ankara to live for the first time as a young boy, only to come back to the city as a young diplomat.
Married to a Turkish wife, Buchwalter speaks fluent Turkish.Speaking a foreign language is one thing, knowing and enjoying a foreign culture is another. “I like Turkish music,” he said during the speech he delivered last week at a reception. And he made reference to one of the songs of Turkey’s most famous singer for more than three decades, the late Zeki Müren, calling him a legendary artist. The name of the song is “Don’t go, I need you.”
“Turks and Europeans, we need to say this to each other: Don’t go, I need you,” said Buchwalter.
It seems this is exactly what Turks and Europeans have ended up telling each other.
Despite the call of the European Parliament, the 27 foreign ministers of the European Union decided not to halt membership talks, resisting Austria’s demand to suspend the talks as a reaction to the Turkish government’s “anti-democratic” practices.
They have done so, despite consistent and persistent verbal attacks by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan.
He kept giving messages that the EU is not indispensable for Turkey and that the country had other alternatives like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. President Erdoğan even talked about taking the membership issue to a referendum in Turkey.
What is interesting is that, while President Erdoğan continued his discourse to give the impression to the public that relations with EU are not that critical for Turkey, Turkish diplomats in European capitals were lobbying against a decision to suspend talks. And the essential message given to convince their interlocutors on why the EU should not halt the talks was in line with the Zeki Müren song: “Turkey and the EU need each other.”
It seems Turkey speaks on a certain tune in Turkish for internal consumption and prefers another tune in English for external balance.
European capitals are obviously aware of this double discourse. And obviously, they have not taken this decision to do a favor to Turkey. Indeed, European capitals (and especially those who matter and also, this time, all but one) do know that they need to keep the channels of dialogue open. Halting the talks and heading for a collision course would not help since Turkey would have certainly retaliated had there been a suspension of talks. Cooperation on key issues like refugees and terrorism would have been negatively affected.
While EU capitals stopped short of a suspension, by refusing to open new chapters, accession talks are actually going to look as though they are frozen.
Some may ask, “What’s the difference if membership talks are officially alive but physically dead?”
The difference is that an official suspension would have made itself felt as a detrimental effect on an already-ailing Turkish economy and that is one of the primary reasons why the government has instructed its envoys in Europe to lobby against a suspension, in clear contradiction to President Erdoğan’s anti-Western discourse.
In the case of Turkey, even the semblance of accession talks has its benefits.
*Barçın Yinanç is a Turkish journalist. She started her career in journalism in 1990 at Milliyet Daily. She worked as a diplomatic reporter covering Turkish foreign policy issues, Turkey–EU relations, transatlantic ties and regional developments from the Middle East to the Caucasus. She is currently a columnist for Hürriyet Daily News.
(Published in Hürriyet Daily News on Thursday, Dec. 15, 2016)