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    'Rocky Road': Turkey Playing 'Classic Game' With EU Amid Refugee Bond - Analysts

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    Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has expressed hope that the difficult period in relations between Ankara and Brussels is in the past.

    The Turkish president met EU officials at a summit in Bulgaria’s resort city of Varna.

    Meanwhile, European Council President Donald Tusk said that no concrete solution or compromise had been reached.

    Sputnik has discussed the issue with Metin Çorabatır, president of the Ankara-based Research Center on Asylum and Migration and a former spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR in Turkey, as well as Dr. Theofanis Exa-daktylos, Senior Lecturer in European Politics, Deputy Head of Department of politics. 

    Metin Çorabatır: I think that Mr. President’s [Erdogan’s] comments are a little bit optimistic. However there’s no reason too pessimistic. It is too early to make further comments, based on what the leaders have told the media in Varna. At least there’s mutual expression for continuation of the dialogue. Before Varna, even we were questioning whether this dialogue would continue or not. What was clear from the leaders’ statements was that these parties the EU on the one hand and the Turkish state on the other hand, expressed understanding that they are mutual interdependent. So without Turkey it is difficult to have a strong EU and the EU is from all aspects one of the strongest partners political, defense, economic and cultural partner of Turkey. 

    Sputnik: Do you think that President Erdogan is ready to make concessions? 

    Metin Çorabatır: I think there’ll be changes, but the pace of changes it’s difficult to predict. The refugee issue is the main issue which strongly ties up Turkey and the EU. It is an area where the common interest is strongly expressed. So this is an issue that keeps the two sides closer. It will continue like that and Turkey will continue to host about 4 million refugees. On the other hand, the fierce military coup back in 2016, so we are now in 2018, two years almost have passed. The lifting of this emergency situation and other tough political applications was the reaction. We can safely expect it, but the pace of these changes it is difficult. We should not forget that Turkey made the fastest reforms toward the membership to EU during the early years of this government. Then there was a prospect of full membership.

    Sputnik has also discussed the issue with Dr. Theofanis Exa-daktylos, Senior Lecturer in European Politics, Deputy Head of Department of politics.

    Dr. Theofanis Exa-daktylos: The relationship itself is on a rocky road. There are a lot of problems. The European Union does not agree with a lot of the actions taken by President Erdogan, especially when it comes to the issues of freedom of speech, the media, the opposition and also the kind of presidentialization of Turkey towards a more authoritarian style of rule rather than the standard democratic norms that the EU expects. There are also the problems with the refugees from Syria, the attack in Afrin and the issues with the Kurdish population there. But also the kind of stirrup that Turkey is pursuing with neighbors like Greece and Cyprus these days.

    Sputnik: Despite the official statements by Turkish and the EU leaders, a lot of analysts are also saying that the summit has really underscored the deteriorating state of relations between Ankara and Brussels. Some have even said that this is perhaps one of the last opportunities to maintain any dialogue between Turkey and the EU. What are your thoughts on that? 

    Dr. Theofanis Exa-daktylos: Well, I wouldn’t say that this is the last opportunity to maintain any dialogue but definitely this was a kind of a warning signal towards Erdogan. I don’t think we actually saw something fruitful out of the Turkey-EU summit as such it. There was much  rhetoric and repetition of the kinds of things we say in the European Union, like “we believe in the European perspective of Turkey and the prospect of membership blah-blah-blah…” But at the end of the day there’s no concrete plan of how this is going to work out. So I think that this is not the last opportunity as such. President Erdogan appeared a lot more moderate for the purposes of the summit and in my opinion, as he goes back to Turkey he will restart a lot of the more aggressive, more assertive tricks that he was employing in the last few months.

    Sputnik: The Turkish President has said that they want to discuss EU membership and it remains a strategic goal for Ankara. Also there’s to be a discussion right now about the visa regime and another tranche of payments for Syrian refugees. How do you see those issued being resolved?

    Dr. Theofanis Exa-daktylos: The EU does need Turkey when it comes to the Syrian refugee crisis. That is for sure. So that is the kind of card that Turkey has to its advantage. But at the same time, all the talk about a strategic relationship and the prospective membership of Turkey cannot really be resumed if Turkey doesn’t abide by what the European Union thinks is the norm.

    Sputnik: President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said that he really hoped that the difficult period in the relations between Turkey and the EU had passed. What do you think gives him this feeling of positivity or hope? Has something really changed?

    Dr. Theofanis Exa-daktylos: So, I think that Turkey is playing the classic game, we’ve seen this before, it’s not a new strategy, of trying to appease the international community that’s moderate and it’s trying to find its ground politically. But I think that most of Erdoğan’s words and actions are targeted internally, so I think he is more interested in perfecting his image as President for internal consumption, for Turkish purposes, for elections, for political games and so on, for managing to diminish his opposition rather than sticking out his neck and defending something he doesn’t believe in. That is why I think we saw him a little bit moderate in the way that he approached the Turkey-EU summit. I think that when he goes back to Turkey, we will still hear the same type of assertive rhetoric because that is what serves his purpose as a politician at this very moment. There’s no harm in doing so because he’s playing a political game, but as long as this does not affect the essence of Turkey-EU relations then this can be seen as a political game only. But we are starting to slowly see how European leaders are starting to feel a little bit uneasy with these kinds of statements. And I think this is also partly fueled by a kind of challenges that Erdogan puts forward in Greece especially when it comes to the Aegean Sea issues but also the kind of harassment that European companies have faced in the Cypriot zone of exploitation for gas and oil. Erdogan is really creating a balancing act between what he can do and how aggressive or challenging he can be to the EU and how much the EU is prepared to accept.

    The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.

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