Michel faces backlash after EU membership promise to Turkey


Charles Michel, President of the European Council, is facing a backlash after promising to help Turkey’s European Union membership bid.

In a meeting with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan at the NATO summit in Lithuania on July 10, Michel managed to convince him to support Sweden’s NATO membership ambitions.

While Turkey’s agreement is a major turnaround on its previous policy, Michel’s pledge to assist Ankara in its EU push was in direct contradiction to official EU statements made earlier the same day.

After Erdoğan announced the possible membership-for-membership trade over Sweden on Sunday, officials from the EC responded by saying the two countries’ applications to two different organisations were totally separate issues.

That sentiment was echoed by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. Speaking to journalists, he said that the two processes should not be regarded as a connected issues.

Others in Germany were more outspoken in their annoyance.

One MP said that Turkey under Erdoğan was blatantly disregarding its human rights obligations. Another MP from Scholz’s Liberal FDP allies tweeted that it was “outrageous” that NATO had given in to Erdoğan’s “blackmail”, especially since the Turkish Government had “taken the axe” to democracy, freedom of press and the rule of law.

It is reported that  Scholz will have a tête-à-tête with Erdoğan over EU-Turkish relations this evening at the Vilnius summit.

It remains unclear if Michel sought the approval of any of the other leaders of the EU institutions or Member States regarding his offer to Turkey.

According to Euractiv, Michel and Erdoğan met as the latter stepped out for few minutes from his meeting with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Swedish Prime Minister Ulf Kristersson.

Michel tweeted that they had had a “good talk”. Erdoğan then returned to the meeting with Stoltenberg and Kristersson and a while later he had agreed to support Sweden’s NATO membership.

While many EU leaders celebrated Erdoğan’s apparent change of heart, virtually none commented on the promises made to him by Michel.

Any EU failure to carry out his promises will put Michel in an awkward position. Speaking to Reuters, one senior Turkish official said the country now expects “concrete steps” from the EU in helping it to join the bloc, including financial aid.

Saying that he is “endeavouring to make the most efficient use of our historically important summit”, Erdoğan, for his part, looks to have achieved a significant victory in the agreement with Michel.

Turkish commentators say the country’s domestic media is hailing Erdoğan’s deal as a great diplomatic coup. His long-standing strategy of acting as strongman and playing diplomatic hardball is paying off and boosting his popularity at home, it is argued.

In addition to promises of EU membership, Turkey has apparently wrestled other concessions from the West.

Alongside Sweden promising further collaboration regarding Turkish security, it is reported the US has signalled its intention to unblock a delivery of F16 fighter jets to the country.