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Turkish Election: Here’s How the Outcome Could Impact Ties With the Eu, Russia and the Eastern Med

Turkey is officially a candidate to join the EU but its accession talks have been frozen since 2018 over rule of law and democratic concerns.

Turkish voters will on Sunday go to the polls to vote for their next president in what most see as the most serious challenge to Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s leadership since he came to power 20 years ago. 

Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, the candidate picked by a united opposition, is currently leading in the polls and said that he will try to restore trust with the EU and the West which is now at a historic low.

The EU froze Turkey’s accession negotiations in 2018 in response to the deterioration of Turkish democracy.

EU leaders stated in their June 2018 summit conclusions that Turkey “has been moving further away from the European Union” and expressed concerns over its “backsliding on the rule of law and on fundamental rights”.

They also stated that Turkey’s accession negotiations “have effectively come to a standstill” and that “no further chapters can be considered for opening or closing”.

Ankara’s naval operations near Greek islands and Cyprus have since also further ratcheted up tensions, and Turkey’s involvement in the Libyan and Syrian conflicts has led many Europeans to see its policies in the Middle East as destabilising.

What happens if the opposition wins …

… with EU talks

But the outcome of the election is unlikely to lead to a resumption of EU talks, according to analysts. Still, progress could be made in some areas should a new government in Turkey change course. 

“We are now in a very important juncture and moment, historical moment, where it will be decided if the development will be still problematic for democracy, for rule of law, but also the aggressiveness vis-a-vis EU neighbours like Greece and Cyprus will continue,” Sergey Lagodinsky, the Chair of the European Parliament’s EU-Turkey delegation told Euronews.

“We will be coming in a phase where the division between Turkey and EU will be irreversible. Whatever political decisions will be after the elections, if the decisions would go towards opening the country to democracy and rule of law, if we will see reforms in the justice system, something that we’ve been calling for a long time, then we should start talking, for example, about an update of (the) customs union.”

“We can start talking in case of such reforms. We can start talking about a liberalization of visa regime,” Lagodinsky added.

An opposition victory would mean an opportunity to revamp relations between the EU and Turkey due to campaign promises over the rule of law and individual freedoms, Ilke Toygür, professor of European Geopolitics at the University Carlos III of Madrid told Euronews.

“Secondly, they (the opposition) are claiming that they are going to reclaim Turkey’s Western location. And thirdly, and I think it is also very important for Turkey relations, they will start playing a constructive role in regional affairs, in wider Europe and in a multilateral sense” she added.

… with Russia

It could also have repercussions on the country’s stance toward Russia. 

Ankara’s relations with NATO allies have soured over the past few years due, in part, to tensions over Turkey’s growing ties with Russia.

Erdoğan has conducted a diplomatic “balancing act” since Russia invaded Ukraine, opposing Western sanctions on Russia and maintaining close ties with Moscow while at the same time sending drones to Kyiv.

“The Russia policy is going to be a long-term or medium- to long-term issue for Turkey, because there’s a legacy there that the relations between Turkey and Russia are relatively good. And there is also energy dependency, nuclear dependency, and an economic dependency between Turkey and Russia at this moment,” Toygur said.

“Changing these dynamics overnight is not going to be easy for any government, even if this is the opposition government” she added, noting, however, that if it is in power, the opposition “will be more sensitive to Western worries about Russia, for example, when it comes to Turkey helping Russia evading Western sanctions”.

Marc Pierini, a former EU Ambassador to Turkey also agrees that some things won’t be easy to change no matter the winner of the elections.

“Some of the features of today’s Turkey, in particular, the fact that it has increased its military power, that will not decrease. It has more political influence that may remain. And also you have other features like the nuclear power plant, electricity, and which is built and owned and operated by Russia. It’s not online yet, but it will. That is not going to go away. So whoever comes into power we’ll have to take into account this,” he told Euronews. 

… with the Eastern Mediterranean tensions

Relations with Greece and Cyprus have also reached their worst point in decades as Erdoğan, over the past couple of years, issued veiled threats to invade his neighbour and fellow NATO member, while dialogue between Cyprus and Turkey and Turkish Cypriots has been frozen over the last six years.

The newly elected President of the Republic of Cyprus Nikos Christodulides said in an interview with Euronews in March, that the Turkish election would be a chance to revive dialogue.

“The issues will remain difficult. So the expectation there is not a miracle overnight,” Pierini commented.

“But I would expect that they return to a kind of professional dialogue about it instead of exchanging threats and, you know, redesigning all their own maritime boundaries and so on. And the same with Greece” he added.

Still, whoever wins the elections will not be able to solve these issues easily, Toygur said.

“Turkey’s relations {with the EU} cannot be discussed separately from Turkey’s relations with Cyprus and Greece because they are EU members and extremely important when it comes to decision- making.”

“So I personally think that there will be some opposition in these areas as well. Clearly, the national interests will remain the same on both sides, not only on the Turkish side, but also on the benefit of the Cypriot and the Greek side. But I think that if there is a more fruitful relationship and thinking about Turkey’s place in the region and in wider Europe, I think there might be improvements even in these very complicated dossiers” she also said.

What happens if Erdoğan wins

Both Toygur and Pierini agree that the Turkish leader is unlikely to amend his domestic and international policy should he remain in power. 

In fact, Toygur argued, his victory could see him buckle down even more “because the coalition that he’s aligning with in this election is even more right wing. So I would even expect the more frightening attitudes when it comes to democracy and when it comes to foreign policy.”

Pierini added that there is “no example in contemporary history of an institutionalised autocracy suddenly transforming itself by miracle into a dynamic democracy. This just doesn’t exist.”

Source : Euronews



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