Turkey's rampant democratic regression has closed the country's doors to potential opportunities for foreign policy cooperation with the EU. Recep Tayyip Erdogan's autocratic drift has plunged Ankara into a partial outward blockade with potential European partners, yet the Turkish president insists impassively on his roadmap.
Austria was the latest country to deny Turkey. Vienna has flatly rejected Ankara's entry into the Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) programme, a joint defence initiative developed in 2017 by Brussels that provides a legal framework "to jointly plan, develop and invest in shared capability projects, and to improve the operational readiness and contribution of the armed forces".
Turkey "does not fulfil the conditions" stipulated for joining the programme, according to the Austrian foreign ministry. Through its defence minister, Klaudia Tanner, the central European country stated its opposition to Turkey's entry on the list: "Austria opposes Turkey's participation for formal reasons," Tanner said. Vienna's reluctance stems from a lack of democratic values.
The organisation currently operates in parallel to NATO and is involved in 46 projects involving a total of 24 member states. PESCO initiatives are funded by the EU budget through the European Defence Fund. The group includes countries such as Germany, Spain, France, Italy, Hungary and Austria, as well as Norway and Canada outside the EU.
In May, Turkey submitted a formal request to the Netherlands, the project coordinator, to join the group as a 'third country'. Since the end of 2017, the EU has allowed the participation of third states in the organisation that can bring 'significant added value' to foster cooperation among non-EU NATO countries. Ankara's objective at the time was to strengthen its defence and forge closer ties with the Old Continent.
However, two of PESCO's core members are Greece and Cyprus, states in continuous friction with Turkey in eastern Mediterranean waters. The reasons for the rejection also come before this point, as Tanner pointed out that relations with PESCO member states must be based on respect and stability, requirements that run counter to Ankara's line.
"Article two of this treaty states that a third country must share the EU's democratic values and maintain good neighbourly relations with the EU, but this is not the case. I don't think we should follow up [Turkey's] proposal and I don't think it can participate in the upcoming EU defence policy projects," the Austrian foreign minister remarked.
PESCO members unanimously agree on the accession of a third state. In the event of agreement, the Council must take the final decision once the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in this case Josep Borrell, has been informed. However, with Austria's refusal, the application would be rejected and Turkey would not join the organisation.
The Central European country's position seems irrevocable, and Ankara must reorient its foreign policy if it does not want to be excluded. A U-turn would involve appeasing its relations with Greece and Cyprus on border, energy and territorial issues over its control of the Mediterranean island. At the same time, Erdogan's government is obliged to persuade the EU to uphold human rights and democratic precepts in the country.
The other option is more plausible, as Austria's refusal threatens to open a new front between Ankara and Brussels. Erdogan's visit to the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, from where he reopened the fenced-off town of Varosha, fuelled the dispute. The decision drew condemnation from the EU, which threatened to use 'the instruments and options at its disposal to defend its interests and those of its member states, as well as to maintain regional stability'.