The politics of CU modernization
Both the EU and Turkey have recognized the value of modernizing the CU. To that end, the European Commission asked the European Council for a mandate to launch talks with Turkey on 23 December 2016. However, the litany of recent political disputes has undermined the bilateral relationship. The Turkish government was surprised and frustrated by the EU’s hesitant response to the failed coup on 15 July 2016 and its perceived dismissal of Turkey’s claim that the movement led by Fethullah Gülen – the Pennsylvania-based reclusive Islamic cleric – played a significant role in that plot. In turn, the EU has criticized the post-coup clampdown that has seen thousands of arrests and further restrictions on Turkey’s media. Many leaders in the EU countries are also concerned about constitutional change in Turkey, with the introduction of a powerful executive presidency enabling President Erdoğan to promulgate laws by presidential decree. It is in this context that Germany has blocked the opening of talks on the CU, with little opposition from other member states, and has also opposed the criminal prosecution of German citizens on alleged terror charges in Turkey.
The Turkish government was surprised and frustrated by the EU’s hesitant response to the failed coup on 15 July 2016
More broadly, the political climate in both the EU and Turkey is not conducive to the CU agenda. In Europe, the growth of radical right-wing populist parties that are hostile to immigration is encouraging anti-Turkey sentiment among traditional centre-left and centre-right parties. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has blocked the CU upgrade, in part, because of domestic opposition and in response to the rise of the far-right party Alternative for Germany (AfD).
At the same time, the requirements that CU modernization would place on the Turkish government clash with aspects of its domestic agenda. Erdoğan is prioritizing short-term economic growth and consolidation of domestic political power. The Turkish government therefore has little desire to liberalize its public procurement markets, where the practice of awarding infrastructure and construction projects to politically favoured companies is widespread.
For instance, Turkey will not want its Housing Development Administration (TOKI), which undertakes or supports urban regeneration and social housing projects, to be subject to strict EU rules on transparency and competition. This agency’s revenue-sharing model between its commercial arm, Emlak Konut, and private Turkish contactors lacks transparency and is shielded from scrutiny.