Foreign Minister Ali Babacan may sound hopeful, but the reality of this autumn in Turkey tells us that Parliament will not be visible in its appetite for taking serious steps that could impress EU as it did in the period between 2002 and 2004.
The complaints do not help. Babacan complained recently that the EU seemed to follow a pattern of opening just two chapters every 6 months. This, he calculated, would mean that the negotiations would be completed by 2014. It was also repeated when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed EU ambassadors in Ankara, which turned into a “lecture” -- a style not very helpful in the process itself.
These complaints disregard the fatigue of enlargement and the paralysis of the Lisbon process. You face the realities, listening to the talks and debates, as I do these days in Barcelona, at a conference organised by the European Stability Initiative (ESI) and Fundacion CIDOB. The title of the meeting reflects the realities to be addressed: “The EU and southeast Europe: Is all still well?”
The response, in a nutshell, is not a clear “yes.”
As Giuliano Amato, the former Prime Minister of Italy, wisely pointed out, regarding the Balkans (and, though he did not mention it, Cyprus), the EU looks lost in its identity. The EU will either act like a colonial power by expanding with no clarity on its soft power prospects, or help the countries in the southeastern flank “to be successful.” Strongly suggesting the latter, he asserted firmly, “If the EU cannot manage its own backyard, it cannot be a global player.”
Therefore, he went on, if it desires to be a “transforming agent,” the EU must operate lucidly, with clear political signals and deadlines.
In these points one may think Erdoğan and Babacan are right. Although things came to a halt in Turkey regarding the reform process, one certainly expects that a deadline sooner rather than later would be declared for Turkey’s accession. Even if it is with the opening of two chapters every six months, Turkey must go on knowing that accession will one day be a reality, rather than a game without an end.
Some people suggest the late date of 2023, a symbolic date marking the 100th anniversary of the foundation of the republic, and even that should be acceptable, as long as it is conditioned with the necessary benchmarks.
By this time, particularly after the crisis in Georgia and the great game over energy routes, the EU and Ankara must have realized -- one hopes -- that their destinies are tied tightly to each other.
“I believe it is a political scandal that we in the EU do not talk to Ankara about security and other issues. It is unacceptable that we completely lack a strategic dialogue with Turkey,” said Lars Wahlund, deputy head of European Affairs for the Swedish Foreign Ministry. Sweden, he said, will establish such a necessary dialogue when it takes over the EU presidency in the second half of next year.
The Georgian crisis became a wake up call even for France, almost everyone agreed in the conference. The EU must, therefore, address sensibilities in the Balkans and develop a vision on the Caucasus.
Macedonia must be saved from a ridiculous name dispute, some suggested, that keeps its EU perspective hostage to the single veto of Greece. Serbia should be made to feel more secure in its dealing with the EU by the Netherlands stopping its harassment of it. Finally, it must be made clear to the Greek Cypriots that they will not be allowed to use the EU as a tool to impose their position on Turkish Cypriots in the ongoing talks.
Where does the EU stand regarding the Caucasus? This is a hard question, many agreed. Certainly a vision must be possible to expand -- in due time -- to the Caspian Sea, by giving Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan an EU perspective. This sort of vision is certainly a conclusion of the type of crisis that shook a small nation like Georgia before a Russia, whose aspirations as a colonial power seem to have awakened.
All this -- the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Mediterranean -- is naturally strongly linked to what the EU in general envisions for Turkey. The sooner we have the response, the better for the “global role” of the EU.