Why Brexit is important for Turkey

Brexit discussions has turned into a farce in the UK. If we consider the referendum itself as a tragedy, Prime Minister May’s handling of the Brexit process has turned it into a comedy. Currently, there is a whole new discussion on how Brexit should be carried out. Interestingly, the current discussions are all UK-centric. However Brexit is more important for Turkey than you may imagine, therefore how they see this process through with the UK is so very important for the EU, too. Let me explain.

While analyzing important events that may affect Turkey in the near future, I choose to place Brexit at the top. More accurately, let me say, the form in which the Brexit process will come to fruition. Why? The European Single Market rests upon four freedoms; the free movement of goods, capital, services and labor. Now with the EU-UK Brexit Deal, the number of freedoms will effectively be curbed down to two. Freedom of movement for goods and capital, only. There lies the problem, as the discussion shifts to sharing the benefits of the internal market without sharing the costs. With the migration debate effectively turning any freedom of movement for people to a politically costly move, Brexit is to instrumentally shape EU policy towards partnerships and adopt a highly supervised or controlled policy on the movement of people.

Turkey has become a part of EU internal market with the customs union arrangement back in 1996. The Union has effectively liberalized Turkish industry, turning Turkey into an industrial country with German global value chains. A tick for the freedom of movement for industrial products, mind you. One freedom in pocket, three left. At least that is what we have been thinking at the outset. Then, the Turkish negotiation process for full membership started in December 2004, together with Croatia. Croatia has later become a member of the European Union in 2013 while Turkey is still muddling through. Presently, it’s all about the freedom of movement for people when it comes to Turkish membership, if you ask me.

Europe felt the migration crisis in 2015, when so many Syrian and other refugees started moving towards the heart of Europe. The latter has changed the whole debate about freedom of movement for people and turned it into a politically loaded issue for so many states in Europe. Just have a look at surveys about how the local population is viewing the refugees. Turkey is no different from Hungary, by the way. While rankings favor Turkey, both are among the bottom 30 out of 117 countries as the least accepting of migrants. Now with the migration crisis, Turkey has become an important partner of the EU in its pursuit to stop the tide, and with no positive impact on the Turkish accession process, mind you.

I tend to see the fate of the Brexit deal as to be an important predecessor for a future Turkey discussion within the EU. The deal would also be practically important for Turks to become ready for even a discussion on leaving the accession process aside. Now it all depends how the British will feel about the Brexit deal. That’s where we are all going to look at.

However the year 2019 resembles a transition year for Europe with elections at all levels and with possibly new actors coming into the picture. Trump in D.C. and no leadership in the EU, however, further complicates what is regarded to be a vital discusson for the future of Europe.

This commentary was published in Hürriyet Daily News on 07.01.2019


Originally published at www.tepav.org.tr.

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