Finally, Brexit happened: officially, it is now the European Union minus Britain. During the midnight countdown on January 31, while the Union Jack was projected on Downing Street 10, jubilant crowds surrounded by UK flags filled the Parliament Square of London, celebrating with none other than Nigel Farage, head of the Brexit Party. Literally, the Brexit Party’s leader Farage was also the leader of the fete celebrating Brexit that night.
I am sure Mr. Farage will come up many new reasons to encourage crowds to wave the British flag for a long time to come. Brexit may be over, but it is just beginning, with long months ahead of successive trade negotiations that the UK must broker with both the European Union and all other major parties it trades with. And the Turkish economy will be impacted considerably by post-Brexit trade deals, even though the issue has not been much of an item on the agenda in Turkey. The director of the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV) and Hürriyet Daily News columnist Güven Sak the following back on Oct. 12 in his article titled, “Brexit is a bigger problem for the Turkish economy than Syria”:
“According to our calculations at the Economic Policy Research Foundation of Turkey (TEPAV), 70 percent of bilateral trade with the U.K. would be negatively affected by a no-deal Brexit this October. There would be a direct and an indirect negative impact on different product groups. The direct impact would be from higher U.K. tariffs to Turkey, while the indirect impact would be from lower U.K. tariffs to some of our competitors. Both require Turkish companies to focus on new arrangements.”
Veteran EU expert Nilgün Arısan Eralp, the director of TEPAV’s European Union Studies Center, prepared a policy note on Brexit’s effects in general — the only such effort from any of Turkey’s think tanks, Turkish civil society and academia. Arısan wrote the following:
“It is highly probable that Brexit will have negative effects over Turkey. With UK’s exit from the EU, citizens of the Republic of Turkey will lose their right to settle in this country with the condition that they are providing services, based on the EU Partnership Agreement. Moreover, UK’s departure from the EU without a deal, or exiting with a deal yielding results of a non-agreement will have negative consequences over the trade of Turkey-UK. In this case, as Turkey’s Customs Union agreement with the EU requires it to comply with the EU’s Common Commercial Policy and the agreements that EU makes, Turkey will not be able to sign a separate agreement with the UK regulating its trade relations. In this case, Turkey will be losing its second largest export market and the sectors of automotive, textiles and electrical appliances which constitute half of the exports to the UK may be adversely affected”.
As Arısan points out, Turkey’s citizens will be suffering their right to settle in the UK under the Ankara Agreement by Dec. 31, 2020. This agreement dating from 1963 is actually the framework of cooperation between Turkey and the EU. Turkish citizens are eligible to enter and remain in the UK permitted that they are setting up a business or taking up employment at a company based at the UK. Since 2012, a total of around 13,000 Turkish nationals relocated in the UK through the Ankara Agreement. In 2018 alone, Ankara Agreement applications soared to around 8,000.
Since March 2018, obtaining a visa through the Ankara Agreement has become more difficult. The UK Home Office made an unexpected announcement at midnight on March 16, 2018, declaring that new applications will not be accepted until further notice. After three months of contemplation, new legislation regulating the terms of implementation of the Ankara Agreement was introduced by the UK Home Secretary Sajid Javid alongside other amendments concerning immigration laws and regulations. Permanent residency and citizenship application eligibility times were increased by a year, and mandatory English proficiency and “social life adaptability” tests were introduced. What’s more, all of these new rules were to be applied retroactively. Since then, permanent residency and residency applications by Turkish nationals in the UK have been in limbo.
Immigration to the UK is just a part of the story. Besides the Brexit and Ankara Agreement conundrum, Turkish nationals are having a harder and harder time entering the Schengen area as visitors. While the rejection rate for uniform Schengen visa applications by Turkish nationals was around 3 to 4 percent back at the first half of 2010, by the end of 2019, rejections increased to around 9 percent. The rejection rate for that kind of visa is close to India’s, which hovers around 10 percent.
The real impact of Brexit on Turkey may be on trade front though: Britain has signed 18 free trade agreements with 55 countries so far. As Arısan’s policy paper notes, due to the Customs Union, Turkey has to wait for the EU to conclude a deal to sign its own agreement due to the Customs Union. By July 2020
But in any case, Ankara wanted to engage in trade deal negotiations with the UK so that new trade tariffs will not hurt Turkish exports in the case of a no-deal scenario or an EU deal that hurts Turkey. So far, Britain has not been interested.
Britain was Turkey’s second biggest trade partner after Germany. In 2019, Turkey’s exports to the UK were around 11 billion dollars, and its imports around 5.4 billion dollars.
As Turkey is neither a part of the EU, nor completely outside of its jurisdiction, it will be the country that really gets hit by Brexit unless Ankara is able to carve out a lucrative trade deal in the coming months.
July 1 is the deadline for when the fate of the EU-Britain deal itself will materialize. The EU and the UK will have until the end of this year to conclude their deal, but if there is going to be a “one or two year extension,” this decision has to be made by July 1.
July 2020 is also the time when Germany takes over the EU Presidency. This current term may be crucial for the future of Turkey and the EU, as Angela Merkel takes some decisive steps regarding the state of relations — leaving a final legacy before she descends from the throne as chancellor.
In other words, Brexit on one side and Germany’s upcoming EU Presidency on the other may be a make-or-break period on many fronts when it comes to Turkey’s relations with Europe.
Amid the coronavirus outbreak several European leaders have called launching an all-encompassing Marshall Plan-style public investment program to mitigate the economic impact. Turkey was a part of the Marshall Plan as it was automatically considered to be a part of Europe and the Western bloc back in 1951. How about now?
Hungary’s new “COVID-19 State of Emergency Law” allows Prime Minister Viktor Orbán to rule by decree indefinitely. he COVID-19 crisis may pass, but the dagger in the back is there to stay. And Hungary’s new legislative turn may prove to be the real “epidemic”: draconian systemic changes going viral.
Schengen is one casualty of COVID-19, but not the only one. The European Stability Pact, which requires member states to uphold a less than three percent budget deficit is another casualty. The EU had to lift the budget cap on March 20, guarded by the European Stability Pact.
Is the first casualty of the coronavirus the European Union itself? There are now more confirmed cases of coronavirus globally than there are in China, and Europe has been defined as the “epicenter of epidemic crisis” by the World Health Organization. And when it comes to facing the crisis, it’s almost as though the European Union does not exist as an institution.
Money is an important part of the issue for Ankara; but so is its safe zone plan. The polls indicated that the public supported the military incursion into Northern Syria first and foremost because they believed that a safe zone for Syrian refugees to return may be created. As Turkey’s public opinion sours vehemently on the refugee issue, the “promise of sending back the Syrian refugees” is political gold in terms of returns in political capital.
This is our darkest hour with Europe and the European Union. And I do not think that either the public in Turkey or Turkish politicians in general are aware of the grimness of the situation. Turkey’s public psyche has gone berserk with all sorts of negative emotions, and are unable to recognize that relations with Europe are completely wrecked beyond repair.
While Ankara may not receive the solid backing from NATO that Turkey is seeking against Russia now, dialogue channels with NATO are stronger compared to other international institutions — for example, the European Union. Despite all the conflicts of interest and tensions that Turkey and European states, as well as Ankara and Washington, have endured, their links with NATO are still intact.
In Turkey’s case, beyond Ankara and Erdoğan’s foreign policy line, perceptions are changing, and the West is clearly not winning when it comes to public perception. A recent survey by MetroPOLL showed that Russia is the “most trusted country” in Turkey, followed by Japan, China, and Hungary, respectively. While love of Japan and Hungary extend back to Ottoman times and might be due to imagined cultural affinities, trust in Russia and China are novel developments in Turkey.
Várhelyi’s statement on a “revised methodology” for EU enlargement and the official document for this new approach do not even refer to Turkey. Or, in other words, as far as enlargement is concerned, Turkey is not remotely on the mind of the EU.
2020 seems already to be ridden with unexpected crises erupting all around the world: Turkey had to face one of its worst fears, an earthquake. The warmest responses came from the EU countries with which Turkey has the coldest relations: France, and at a far warmer level, Greece.
One of the most tangible outcomes of the Berlin Conference turned out to be worsening Greek and Turkey relations. Already the Eastern Mediterranean question was the elephant in the room in relations between two countries; now the state of crisis has become permanent and “East Med” issue is right in middle of everything. Troubles with Greece will lead to worsening of already dreadful relations between Turkey and the European Union institutions, too.
U.S.-Greece relations are on track despite Trump’s reluctance to condemn Ankara. Perhaps military sales compensate for that by producing tangible results that reduce Greece’s anxieties concerning Turkey.
Clear goal of the EU and the major European states is saving the nuclear deal. As Trump was threathening to bomb 52 sites in Iran in allusion to the same number of diplomats taken the 1979 hostage crisis in Tehran, the EU’s new foreign policy chief Josep Borrell invited Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif to Brusells. However, at the moment, there seems to be no clear European vision ahead or roadmap.
If I had one way to describe this year, it would be “bittersweet. While I am more optimistic about Europe in general, I am less optimistic about Turkey and Greece as we slowly step into 2020.
Can local governments and municipal leaders counter centralized, majoritarian populist national governments by creating an alternative “spaces to breathe” for politics? Looking at Budapest, Warsaw, Bratislava, Prague and Istanbul’s determined struggle for “freedom”; it looks like we will comeback to this question more and more in 2020-and beyond.
Former Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made a formal comeback on Dec. 13 with the new party he founded, the “Future Party.” Former Finance Minister Ali Babacan’s new party is counting down the days to its launch and is due to take off either by the end of December or in the early days of January. There is also a surprise movement making its debut in Turkey: the pan-European movement DiEM25-Democracy in Europe Movement 2025.
While Turkey’s public clearly stands by the protection of human rights, they do not actively engage in any tangible act to actually support human rights organizations. They are neither willing to donate nor take part in advocacy campaigns.
At first glance, Turkey may seem to be missing the “climate activism” heyday that’s on-going in Europe. Afterall, it is not the best of the times for any sort of grassroots activism in Turkey. But if you probe deeper, you will come across a diligent and robust climate activist movement budding all over the country.
According to Sept. 2019 data, almost 90% of the public believes that violence against women has increased in recent times. And the public holds the judiciary and the political sphere culpable for increasing violence against women. Around 65% believe that the judiciary is not working effectively when it comes to cases violence against women, and 66% think that politicians are not doing enough to prevent such cases.
As Budapest’s new mayor (and also a political scientist by profession) Karácsony pointed out, maybe the cities are winning at the expense of the populist center specifically because “the correct answer is to strengthen representative democracy, complement this with the institutions which are part of the participative democracy and involve people more in decision-making.”
At the end of the day, the gist of the Erdoğan-Orbán camaraderie is displaying an image of strength to the EU. Their policies regarding Europe, popular domestically, aim to push their own agenda at the expense of Brussels.
The speed at which Germany’s “international safe zone plan” was thrown off the table was only matched by the speed at which it was proposed in the first place. While the proposal became passé almost as soon as it hit the headlines, it was useful for one thing: reflecting on the current state of political affairs in Germany and the relationship between Germany and Turkey.
All eyes were on Ankara’s relations with Washington after Turkey launched its “Operation Peace Spring,” and speculation abounded that the once-allies had parted ways for good. But in fact it is Turkey’s relations with the EU and Europe that took the real and probably most lasting blow.