If there is one consistent criticism of economists, it is that we base explanations and predictions on a logical, orderly universe that in reality does not exist. It’s the oldest economist joke in the world – “assume a can-opener”. Most of the time, the assumptions economists take for granted do not play out on the ground. In short, there is no can-opener.


For a case in point, consider European Union economic relations with Turkey. The two are natural partners, and our study Turkey’s EU Integration at a Crossroads underscores the exponential growth in Turkish – EU commerce.  Moreover, as my colleague Fritz Putzhammer points out, our data suggests that a failure to peruse deeper integration would cause loses on both sides. So we should assume that Turkey and the EU are tightening relations then, right?


Well, this would be assuming a can-opener.


In fact, the Turkish – EU connection is marred by geo-political complications with significant economic spillover effects. One obvious example is the refugee crises – Turkey is positioned as a gate keeper to hundreds of thousands of refugees seeking asylum in Europe.  Ankara has attempted to leverage this position in integration negotiations.


Moreover, Europe is increasingly wary of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan who appears to be consolidating power at the expense of niceties such as freedom of expression. Meanwhile, Ankara remains shocked that the EU did not more forcibly support President Erdogan during the tenuous hours of a coup attempt on the night of July 15, 2016.


So there is no can-opener – only a can of worms that both sides must work through to make the most of an economic relationship that makes a lot of sense on paper.


With this in mind, as part of my Crossroads Turkey research, I interviewed German Bundestag Member and a foreign affairs specialist Niels Annen (SPD) in a discussion on how to get the EU – Turkey relationship back on track.