He said he was angry at the slow approach of the EU to the negotiation process and with some other member states which seem to have a biased and unprincipled approach.
Turkey’s relationship with the EU stretches back decades. The EU has always been resistant to Turkey’s desire to join. However, finally, the EU ran out of excuses as to why progress could not be made and in October 2005 Turkey began membership talks. The road so far has been full of potholes, meaning Turkey is taking the “scenic route” rather than the “autoroute” to Brussels. While a number of key member states continue to state that Turkey is a valued partner of great strategic importance, at the same time they believe the country is just too different. Apparently, the EU slogan “strength in diversity” does not apply to Turkey.
The UK itself is no stranger to hostility from other European friends. When the UK first applied for membership in the 1960s, the then-leader of France, Gen. Charles de Gaulle, was having none of it. As Cameron pointed out during his passionate speech in the Turkish Parliament, De Gaulle described the UK as a country that was “not European. … Its history, its geography, its economy, its agriculture and the character of its people -- admirable people though they are -- all point in a different direction. … This is a country which … cannot, despite what it claims and perhaps even believes, be a full member.” He went on to veto the UK’s bid to join. The UK made it in the end, so there will always be hope for Turkey, or so Cameron would have us believe.
Cameron clearly has a “business first” approach and was accompanied by a group of businessmen. Only a few weeks ago he spoke about how Britain’s foreign policy under his watch would be driven by business interests and he is keen to boost trade and business ties with one of the world’s fastest growing economies. As British Foreign Secretary William Hague stated during a meeting with his Turkish counterpart a few weeks ago, “Turkey is one of the countries with whom we believe elevated ties are strategically highly desirable.” Turkey and the UK already have quite strong economic ties and a strategic partnership. In 2008 there was approximately $13 billion in foreign trade between the two, which dropped somewhat in 2009, but is predicted to increase again to well over $13 billion in the coming years.
Mr. Cameron also said that Turkey would be vital for European security, for the future of the European economy and for British relations with the Middle East and beyond. Turkish membership would make the EU stronger and more secure (for example, borders would be strengthened, reducing illegal migration) and the EU would certainly not be poorer as a consequence of its membership. While Turkey is undergoing a massive transformation and I am not sure anybody really knows what the end result will be, at the same time Turkey is certainly not a Third World country, drowning in poverty -- although this remains the image of the country to many in the EU. Indeed, Turkey weathered the global financial crisis far better than many EU countries. But still, Turkey is predominantly viewed as a nice place to go on vacation but absolutely not the sort of country we would want as part of our club. Turkey is misunderstood and in some cases even feared. Changing this perception will be hard work and for those opposed to Turkish membership it is an image they are more than happy to maintain.
Cameron also congratulated Turkey on its dynamic foreign policy, which he described as East and West together rather than Turkey choosing one over the other. While it is clear not everything has gone to plan and Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has not delivered on everything he wanted at the same time, in order to make a fantastic omelet you need to break a few eggs along the way. Overall, Turkey’s omelet seems to be coming along quite nicely. Cameron was careful not to criticize Turkey on the areas of foreign policy where there are differences -- on Iran, for example. While Turkey opposes new sanctions on its neighbor Iran, the UK continues to see Iran as a considerable threat.
Can Cameron deliver anything tangible? Turkey may ask him to prove his words are more than lip service. This could be done by, for example, pushing him on the issue of Cyprus. The Cyprus problem has become the biggest single stumbling block to Turkey’s membership bid. Ankara may ask him to push the Greek Cypriots to accept a deadline for the ongoing peace talks or to open direct flights to northern Cyprus, but I am not confident they would get a positive result.
The EU and Turkey are on a rollercoaster ride. There have been many ups and downs, with many more to come. Unfortunately, roller coasters never go anywhere; they are destined to keep going around and around with the odd stop in between. This may also prove to be the case with Turkey-EU relations and, unfortunately, the likes of Cameron, even with his good intentions, will be unable to prevent it.