Knut Fleckenstein is member of the European Parliament from Germany. He is also a member of Sozialdemokratische Partei Deutschlands (SPD) and EP’s Committee on Foreign Affairs.
We have talked to Fleckenstein about recent developments in EU- Turkey relations.
In your capacity as a member of AFET and of the Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee, do you think the new axis of Erdogan Government’s foreign policy (relations with Iran, Russia, Qatar, Sudan, etc.) runs a risk for the EU common security and defence policy?
No, I do not necessarily think so. For me it is crucial – if you take for example the case of Syria -that at the end we have to come together with both sides of conflict under the roof of the United Nations. It is important to prepare such step and it can be done in this format. So, in my opinion, it is not a risk for EU’s common security and defence policy.
Do you think the EU has lost its soft power as a leverage for democracy and human rights vis à vis Turkey? (Though co-decided by TR government and EU within the context of the action plan for Visa Liberalisation, Erdogan refused to change the anti-terror legislation in the aftermath of 15 July 2016 and repeatedly extended the State of Emergency.)
Well, it’s obvious that our influence on such things is very limited for the time being. One can call it leverage or influence but the effect is the same. However, I think this influence has declined significantly because the Turkish Government is not there to discuss these things seriously.
PACE adapted a Resolution (2156) of April 2017 underlining that Turkey fell behind its situation of 2004 in meeting the Copenhagen Criteria, thus took Turkey back to the Monitoring status after 13 years as a first ever example in the history of CoE. A recently adopted EP Resolution of November 2017 cut 85 % of the pre-accession financial aid to be transferred to Turkish government. However, updating and widening of the Customs Union Agreement with Turkey seems to be high on the agenda of the Commission and the Council. Keeping in mind the fact that the expected effect of such a renewal to Erdogan Government is estimated to be €12.5 billion or 1.44 % of GDP for Turkey, wouldn’t it be a contradictory act for the EU? ( For the EU side, the impact is estimated to reach €5.4 billion euros or about 0.01 % of EU’s GDP according to the EC study paper), do you think trade should be used as an anchor for EU-TR relations?
Well, in principle trade can be really used as an anchor for the EU – Turkey relations but I can’t see that this is so high on the agenda as participation and customs union agreements need steps also done by the Turkish Government . Economic issues are easier to discuss because the benefit from Turkey is a bit obvious for the government, but let’s see how these negotiations will proceed. Economy is a part of politics that can be easier to discuss than other issues. It’s another level than accession.
You know Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu gave a picture with Sigmar Gabriel while Gabriel was serving tea, and then Cavusoglu quoted President Erdogan wants a personal meeting with Chancellor Merkel to redress the strained relations of their countries. As soon as Bulgarian Presidency took over EU Presidency, Borissov’s initiated an EC-Turkey Meeting in Varna which was welcomed by Merkel too. What to expect from this meeting? Do you think there is any milder climate between Turkey-Germany relations?
I would say it’s always good if people talk with each other. Especially in difficult situations it is crucial to find out what we can do instead of further escalating the situation. We need to find an approach which respects both sides of our relations. So I always appreciate if responsible people reach out to talk and discuss. On the actual situation, I can’t foresee the outcome, but in principle I am always in favour of talking.
French President Emanuel Macron, during Erdogan’s visit to Paris said that EU should abandon the current bias policy and focus on engaging Turkey in a different context like partnership or cooperation rather than the membership perspective. In the face of High Representative Mogherini’s implicit tendency which is seen in Ambassador Berger’s (EU Ambasador to TR) words, would it be correct to say that there is a consensus in the EU to shift the relations with Turkey to an economic basis rather than political and value-based?
Well, for the time being the relations with Turkey can’t be value-based as the Turkish Government really goes in a different way. On the economic bases it might be easier for the time being. But I wouldn’t say this is a shift forever but it is a shift for the time being. Therefore, I think Mr Macron and the High Representative are quite right to try this approach because otherwise we don’t find common ties.
What is your personal opinion on the German Government’s approach to solving the crisis with Turkish Government? Do you think it is appropriate to build the policy on release of Deniz Yucel only? Especially in the aftermath of publicly known judicial investigations on Osmanen Germania which may be seen as a small reflection of Erdogan’s potential effect on Turks and other Muslims in Europe, do you think it would give a wrong signal to limit the solution process to release of a journalist from among hundreds of others?
Well, to be very clear with your first question: I think a policy based only on the release of Mr Yucel is not appropriate. Of course diplomatic talks or negotiations should aim to find solutions for the journalists in prison. Not only the one, Deniz Yücel, but all. Of course it is easier for the German Government to help German citizens in prison. But to build a policy around this fact is absolutely not appropriate. And in regard to the missing the words on the Turkish attacks on Syria, I think it is a bad example for such approach.
With regards to Erdogan’s potential effect on Turks and other Muslims in Europe: I agree with the answer you already put in your question. I agree this is a really wrong signal.