eU-Turkey relationship: an endless rollercoaster?
lessons learned from brussels
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What is going on with Turkey’s accession to the EU? Does Turkey still want to become member? What are the main reasons holding the EU back from this enlargement? The following text is a brief analysis of certain factors contemplating this issue.
It appears that Turkey has a strong and constant will to become a full EU member. The last presidential elections brought to light what some Turkish officials like to call “the new Turkey” with two main priorities; first, the democratization process and second, advancing the EU membership. Nevertheless, this does not mean that Turkey has nothing to criticize the Union upon. The major Turkish criticism concerns European diplomacy. Turkey, an indisputably NATO key player is a partisan of hard power. They do not share nor appreciate the European economic sanctions foreign policy strategy. They perceive it as insufficient to cover the country’s security needs and hence Turkey feels safer within the NATO sphere rather than the European community.
If Turkey is willing to join, then what is holding Europe back? Rationally speaking, the EU could use a fast growing economy like the Turkish one, especially in the current times of recession and stagnation. Still, Jean-Claude Juncker stated at the last European Parliament plenary session that despite the appointment of an enlargement Commissioner, there would be no further EU enlargement for the next five years. There is further explanation than the usual “enlargement fatigue” excuse presented to the Balkan countries regarding the Turkish membership.
Apart from the obvious reason related to the Cypriot issue, which we shall later on analyze, the EU-Turkey relationship has been a constant rollercoaster. Turkey not only needs to obtain a consensus of 28 different Member States but also needs to deal with rotating governments that may have divergent attitudes towards the Turkish entry. It is no secret that the UK has always been a firm supporter of Turkey on this matter. However, France and Germany, the other two most influential EU members can be described as cyclothymic when it comes to their vision of Turkey. Both are definitely more supportive of this particular enlargement when socialist governments are in office. They are considerably more reluctant when right wing parties sit on the negotiation table. Angela Merkel’s government presents a tendency to postpone the issue whereas France under the Sarkozy regime went up to declaring that Turkey had no place in Europe.
Taking a step away from the stereotype discourse relating to European culture and religion, there are some other more concrete factors that may explain this reluctant attitude. Turkey, given its considerable size population-wise, would be able to claim as many seats in the European Parliament as Germany, the country with the largest European Parliament seats number in the EU. This is a reality containing a great deal of political weight that could be a major balance shaker within the Parliament and the decision-making process in the EU as a whole.
The other major factor is the democratization process in the country. Undoubtedly, Turkey has made recognizable efforts when it comes to Human Rights reforms but the EU standards are quite demanding (even though it is highly debatable whether these standards are being respected within the EU). Turkish diplomats have moved from a point where they would not even admit the existence of a Kurdish population in the country to the point where they negotiate in international fora with them and for them. However, the state of other basic liberties, such as the freedom of Press, is evidence that the country still has a lot of work to do in this field. The country’s authorities, concerned about the lack of progress regarding the guarantee of Human Rights prefer to call the approximately 1,5 million Syrian refugees that have fled the civil war “Syrian guests” so that they can avoid UNHCR monitoring.
Turkish officials are nevertheless perfectly conscious of the fact that no matter the progress achieved in all fields, Turkey will never fully join the EU unless the Cypriot issue is resolved. They consider the Greek-Cypriot rejection of the Annan plan in 2004 a major lost opportunity. During the Sarkozy regime, stagnation was observed regarding this matter, as a French blockage of the Turkish entry was a lot heavier than a Cypriot veto. Therefore, for some time Cyprus could not use its EU membership card to put pressure on the Turkish side.
Hopes got up again when President Anastasiadis came to office, since he was one of the very few politicians in favor of the plan back in 2004. Nevertheless, tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean related to the Exclusive Economic Zone and the natural gas have led to yet another postponement of negotiations. What is more, even if the two sides find a way to resume the negotiation process, it is estimated that no result will come out of it for at least another year due to upcoming elections. Hence, despite the good preconditions for a solution, the way things evolved can be described as a way for the parties to shoot themselves in the foot and to turn back to base zero once more.
Looking at the current situation, it can only be said with relative certainty that Turkey still has a long way to EU membership. But the country’s transformation under EU pressure is undeniable progress that must be valued even if the membership is never achieved.