Erdogan’s competitor recently promised that if he will be elected president on May 14, Turks would be able to enter the European Union without a visa after three months. This is of course wishful thinking and a bit of electoral propaganda, as there are no government negotiations between Brussels and Ankara on this issue. The challenger also announced that if he wins the elections he will do his best to get the accession talks, which have been frozen since 2016, to resume. The presidential candidate has promised far-reaching reforms to restore the rule of law and democracy, which the EU has long been demanding. As a first official act, he wants to release the philanthropist Kavala and the Kurdish politician Demirtas from prison, as required by the European Court of Human Rights.
A victory for the opposition would initially qualitatively change the climate of talks between Brussels and Ankara, but this alone would certainly not be enough to readjust relations. The question also arises as to what would happen if the very high expectations did not deliver any concrete results. Or would there be a risk of further alienation if the high expectations were not met?
Türkiye-EU relations might initially return to a positive agenda, but then reality quickly sets in. For Brussels, reforms in the area of anti-terrorist legislation and data protection are in the foreground, especially as far as visa liberalization is concerned. Both could quickly reform the newly elected parliament, but the Cyprus problem, for example, would be enough to prevent rapid rapprochement with the EU. In the conflict with Cyprus, a new president would hardly deviate from the position of his predecessor. The same applies to the disputes with Greece over islands and gas deposits in the eastern Mediterranean. Like Erdogan, Kilicdaroglu has previously threatened to “take back” Greek islands in the Aegean.
One often hears the opinion among opposition politicians these days that some EU states are hoping for Erdogan’s victory so as not to be confronted with new visa, accession and refugee issues. There is a lot to talk about: In its foreign policy positions, Türkiye has meanwhile moved miles away from the EU. One example is the EU sanctions against Russian oil and gas supplies. Türkiye has significantly increased energy imports from Russia since the invasion of Ukraine and offered itself as a hub for Russian gas. Kilicdaroglu has signaled continuity in the event of an election victory. Türkiye will only feel bound by UN sanctions. He sees “no reason” to change policy towards Russia. Nor is it expected that a new president would end Türkiye’s military presence in Syria, which has been criticized by the EU. Like Erdogan, his challenger sees it as necessary to prevent a further influx of refugees and a strengthening of the PKK terrorist group. When it comes to Syria policy, Kilicdaroglu is pushing even more strongly than Erdogan for a compromise with President Bashar al-Assad. The presidential candidate combined this with announcements that millions of Syrian refugees would be sent back to the country within two years.
A new president would probably first and foremost differ in style and tone from his predecessor’s foreign policy. In a more than 240-page agreement, the opposition alliance pledged to re-elevate the Foreign Ministry, which was marginalized under President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Instead of its personalized, populist foreign policy, the opposition promises more stable, institutionally based relations.
Even if President Erdogan is re-elected, a foreign policy change of course cannot be ruled out. In the course of his twenty-year reign he has proved this several times. Some observers believe he could present himself as a reconciler and peacemaker in his last term in office to ensure his place in the history books.
All publishing rights and copyrights reserved to MENA Research and Study Center.