Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met on Tuesday with European Council President Charles Michel and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, leaving the latter standing without a chair and causing a diplomatic protocol crisis.
Von der Leyen just stared at them, gestured with her right hand and seemed to point out the situation with an “Ehmm”.
She was then offered a seat opposite the Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, (who by diplomatic protocol is her junior) on a wide sofa quite a few metres away.
“The treatment Ursula von der Leyen was subjected to in Erdoğan’s palace during a meeting was precisely the equivalent result of this policy. Once you have agreed on the priority of money and security before the prevention of violations of human rights and once you are disconnected from the victims of these violations, you will open the way for your own rights and dignity to be violated,” writes Ertuğrul Kürkçü for Yeni Yaşam on the recent debates regarding the “seating crisis”.
The EU leader’s meeting with Erdoğan on Tuesday sought to repair relations with Turkey. The EU delegation consisted of two co-presidents both having equal force in the EU – EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and EU Council President Charles Michel.
Based on their statements that came after their meeting with Erdoğan, it is understood that there are no differences of opinion between the two, and that they raised the issues which stand as the priorities of the 25-26 March EU summit.
In his statement Charles Michel said after the talks, that the EU proposed “three-main agendas consisting of economic cooperation, immigration and contact and mobility”. Didn’t he talk about human rights? Of course he did, but first “the Eastern Mediterranean, Cyprus and Greece, then Syrian immigrants, then human rights, prisons and the Istanbul convention”. This is how Michel listed the priorities in his report.
Ursula von der Leyen said that Turkey-EU relations were discussed in depth in mainly four areas; ”Economic ties and Customs Union; high level dialogues in the context of the climate crisis and Covid-19; public contacts and circulation of Syrian migrants and the fight against smuggling” and so on so forth. Only after all this, of course, then “The Istanbul convention, human rights, negativities in this area, etc.” came.
Erdoğan’s spokesperson İbrahim Kalın noted that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) President repeated the “full EU perspective”. Erdoğan proposed the “Eastern Mediterranean Conference” and he told his interlocutors “Do not interfere in the lawsuits” and explained the “benefits of withdrawing from the Istanbul Convention” saying that “much more effective results will be achieved in combating violence against women” after the withdrawal.
Although von der Leyen’s statements became headlines in the news, it was clear that the content of the dialogue was not fully reflected in the headlines..
The statements of the EU delegation do not represent a “real confrontation” with Erdoğan, but reflect the concern of avoiding the harsh criticism from the public opinion in Europe cursing the EU leaders for presenting “a gift to Erdoğan” via this meetings.
Ursula von der Leyen’s words “human rights cannot be negotiated” which were highlighted in the media headlines were not actually the words Erdoğan was told during the meeting; von der Leyen responded to the journalists who asked whether the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR’s) decisions to release Demirtaş and Kavala were on the agenda, but this does not change the fact that the issue of human rights was at the bottom of their list of topics.
In the light of the talks, it is possible to say that Brussels and Ankara are moving away from the relations of the EU and its “candidate member”. Although the relations with the EU are still legally in the status of “candidate membership”, they are implicitly moving towards a “privileged partnership”. This is the “best possible” form of relations with Turkey that was mainly defended by Germany and France and this is based on binding criteria and liability. Erdogan’s reference to “the goal of full membership” does not reflect reality in this regard, but expresses his concerns not to lose the existing legal ground of his relations with the EU.
It is a well-known secret that Brussels, too, dreamed of getting rid of the constraints of the “Copenhagen criteria” and turning to the real “sweet” issues in relations with Ankara. EU Foreign and Security Policy High Representative and European Commission Vice-President Josep Borrell visited Turkey to open “a new page, as expressed in his report to the 25-26 March summit with “69.8 billion euro in exports” and “58.5 billion euro directly for foreign investment”.
On the other side of these concerns: Turkey’s total imports make up 33.4 percent of the 73 billion euro for foreign investment, the profit of which flows to the EU. The real question of the EU elites is: Why break away from this sweet market just because Erdoğan regime cannot comply with the “Copenhagen criteria”? Why should we continue this schizophrenia caused by the clash of the realities of the market with the utopia of “human rights”?
Dr. Ronald Meinardus, Friedrich Naumann Foundation’s representative for Turkey summarized the contradictory results saying, “Berlin is particularly concerned about the military escalation of the Turkish-Greek tension and is using all its political and diplomatic power to mediate in this process. This has become actually quite a successful strategy in terms of foreign policy. But for those who are in prison in Turkey for political reasons, this is not very good perspective’.”
The treatment Ursula von der Leyen was subjected to in Erdoğan’s palace during a meeting was precisely the equivalent result of this policy. Once you have agreed on the priority of money and security before the prevention of violations of rights and once you are disconnected from the victims of these violations, you will open the way for your own rights and dignity to be violated.