We don’t hear much about Turkey’s EU accession process nowadays, as everyone is talking about Syria, Iraq or Iran.
Is Turkey’s lack of interest in the EU a reason for this? If there is a growing sense of disinterest, it definitely exists on both sides. Turkish public opinion is not interested in the EU, just as the EU is not interested in Turkey.
David Gardner from the Financial Times recently published an article on this subject. He believes the EU process was the engine of Turkey’s democratization during the last decade. In other words, the EU had an enormous transformative impact in Turkey. It is impossible not to share this perspective.
Gardner also notes that since the deterioration of relations between Turkey and the EU, Turkey’s process of democratization has slowed down, and the Justice and Development (AK Party) is now building an almost authoritarian political system. This comment is not justified, however, because the slowness of the democratization cannot be explained by the so-called authoritarian inclinations of the governing party. We mustn’t forget that Turkey is still trying to dismantle the undemocratic structures rooted within the framework of the state and has not yet finished facing its past coups. Besides, in order to make a comprehensive analysis, one has to look at the opposition parties’ positions as well.
However, it is not wrong to claim that Turkey’s EU process has lost its essential function. This process was the tangible proof that Turkey was trying to catch up with international democratic standards.
It seems that the target readers of Gardner’s column are not Turkish citizens, but the EU countries that are opposing Turkey’s accession. The article intends to remind them that Turkey is an indispensable actor in a possible resolution to the problems in Syria, Iraq and Iran and that the price of saying “no” to Turkey is not only the latter’s destabilization but also the shutting down of the Middle East’s gates to the EU. In other words, he says pushing Turkey away means pushing the Middle East away, too.
He also has another warning addressed to European countries that neglect Turkey’s efforts to connect East with West: As the EU refuses to cooperate with Turkey, Ankara progressively moves closer to the US, putting the EU out of the “big game.” Moreover, the alliance between the US and Turkey accelerates the EU’s chronic introversion, making it difficult for Europe to find solutions to its economic and political problems. It is true that when Turkey decided to initiate a process of furthering relations with the Middle East, it sought the EU’s help first; but when a number of European powers decided to access the region directly, bypassing Turkey, the latter decided to cooperate with President Barack Obama’s US instead.
Gardner’s article is a warning directed at anti-Turkey EU countries. But it is also a reminder for Turkish decision makers: The most efficient way for Turkey to preserve its political and economic power is to get closer to the EU, and the key to Turkey’s economic success still lies in its relations with European countries. Moreover, it is unrealistic to think that Turkey no longer needs the EU.
After having emphasized that both sides need each other, Gardner gives some advice for revitalizing Turkey’s EU process: Turkey should include the EU in its plans regarding the Middle East, especially Syria. In other words, it should open up its Middle Eastern backyard to European powers. Why would Turkey refuse this if it results in some kind of guarantee over its EU membership, if the negotiation process is defrosted, if the Greek Cypriots can be convinced and if a foreseeable accession date, such as 2023, is decided upon?