In a few days, the clock will hit midnight and Germany’s European Union Council Presidency will begin.
In a series of articles, I will try to explore the main issues that Germany’s EU presidency will have to address, and I’ll also question how Germany and the EU’s approach to these issues will affect Turkey.
Let’s begin with the most pressing issue facing humanity’s future: the climate crisis. Due to grassroots activism, especially the diligent efforts of groups like Fridays for Future, in which kids go on strike from school, the climate crisis has come to the forefront of the global agenda. Politicians have finally become conscious of the issue.
In my view, in the coming years, “Green Deal” policies for tackling the climate crisis will be the new contentious area between the EU and Turkey, replacing the traditional rupture point of human rights.
It is not that Turkey will turn into a human rights bastion, but in its international relations, the EU has already backpedaled on prioritizing human rights. However, overlooking non-environmentally friendly policies may not be so easy. New trade deals by the EU will have to be carved out according to the framework of the up-and-coming European Green Deal. In short, the new international relations of the EU will prioritize sensitivity and alertness regarding the climate crisis, and Turkey is completely unprepared for that.
Germany’s EU Presidency and the Green Deal
In poll after poll, one thing is clear: Germans themselves want their government to focus on tackling the threat of the climate crisis.
Hence, it is no surprise that Germany promised a “green” presidency — but the issue is, what shade of green will it be?
Back at the beginning of 2020, Germany was already readying for focusing on the climate crisis. The target was set specifically because of “great expectations”: Germany’s grassroots activists were expecting this from their own government, and international audiences have been growing more sensitive on climate issues.
Hopes for a global breakthrough crashed (once again) after the United Nations climate conference, COP25, back in December 2019.
After the COP25 in Madrid, even the UN Secretary-General António Guterres was blunt about “underachievement”: he expressed his disappointment via a Tweet: “But we must not give up. […] I am more determined than ever to work for 2020 to be the year in which all countries commit to do what science tells us is necessary to reach carbon neutrality in 2050 and a no more than 1.5-degree temperature rise.”
This is why the buck was passed to the European Union and thus Germany: because there is no other party that can assume the task of leading and achieving the global ambitions on the climate crisis. COP 26 will be in Glasgow in November 2021, and climate activists are banking on achieving and sustaining political momentum throughout the remainder of 2020. Germany’s international leadership capacity and pioneering force will become even more crucial because of that.
The designated task of Germany during its 6-months long EU Council Presidency is to solidify the steps to make the Union “climate neutral” by 2050. Merkel has referred to coronavirus as the biggest challenge in the history of Europe. The coronavirus is certainly a huge challenge, but, considering the long durée history of Europe and the catastrophic lows like world wars, one wonders whether that usually sharp Merkel is on the mark on that comment.
And in the end, has the coronavirus really changed the policy course of the German Presidency? Prior to the eruption of the coronavirus crisis, Merkel was stating that the focus of the Presidency would be “climate change” and “digitalization.” Now, the focal point has shifted to a “recovery plan” to remedy the negative effects of the “corona crisis” — but Merkel does affirm that the economic rescue plan of Europe will prioritize climate change and digitalization.
The other half of Europe was already busy with negotiations regarding the medium- to long-term budget of the EU, the “Multiannual Financial Framework” (MFF), and of course, finalizing the protracted Brexit process. In May 2020, the EU Commission revamped the EU budget with an “emergency temporary recovery instrument” called “Next Generation Europe.” By December 2020, as Germany’s Presidency rolls towards its end, the MFF will have to have stamped “approved” by all member states.
In May 2020, the Commission proposed a powerful, modern and revamped long-term EU budget boosted by Next Generation EU, an emergency temporary recovery instrument. The Commission framed the targets of “Next Generation Europe” as helping “to repair the immediate economic and social damage brought by the coronavirus pandemic, kickstart the recovery and prepare for a better future for the next generation.”
Sounds like music to one’s ears — but how will it actually translate into a common and efficient policy? Germany will have to ensure that it does.
The coronavirus recovery will have to move in tandem with the “European Green Deal,” unveiled by the new Commission back in December 2019. The main pillars of the Green Deal are no net emissions of greenhouse gases by 2050, economic growth decoupled from resource use, and no person and no place left behind. These have to be translated into actual, concrete policies agreeable for all member states.
The climate crisis is not ringing any bells in Ankara
In the good old days, Turkey would have to tune its policies to the European wavelength and adopt policy goals and legislation for the accession process. But as Turkey’s membership process continues to stall, the European Green Deal would be yet another wedge between the EU and Ankara. As Turkey’s economy plunges deeper into recession, Ankara is likely to drag its feet in actually investing in new Green policies. So far, the post-Corona Turkish recovery plan and the “a la Turca Next Generation” program have turned out to further boost the real estate balloon and investments. Interest for bank credits for real estate purchases has been lowered further and the buying frenzy in housing investments have been propped up. Genuine “Green Deal” transformation would require recalibration of the whole economic mindset and the government in Ankara — both the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its de facto coalition partner the Nationalist Action Party (MHP) have no parts of their mind close to anything “green” or “environmentally friendly.”
The long and short of it is that the climate crisis emergency is ringing no bells in Ankara.
The EU Climate Law has been in draft form since March, and in the coming months, it will be molded into its final shape as the first legally binding legal document for fighting climate change. One of the targets of the law directly concerns Turkey: the goal of “working with international partners to improve global environmental standards.”
In Germany’s Environment Minister Svenja Schulze’s words, their EU Council Presidency will “march ahead and pull others along” — others such as China. Already, the post-Corona dialogue between Germany and China has started to focus on “strong commitments in the fight against climate change,” alongside the other two main targets of a trade agreement and cooperation in Africa.
If Germany and the EU are prioritizing the Green Deal in talks with China — then it will certainly and inevitably be the focus in relations with Turkey, too. And compared to Turkey, China is far more alert and even adept at pursuing anti-climate crisis policies.