I, certainly, was one of those Turks. Two of my valued friends reacted to this column. One of them, a diplomat, sent a note saying: “It needs to be emphasized that the idea you mention that certain circles in Germany are considering has a number of problems. First of all, there is no basis for such a relationship in the founding treaties of the EU. The idea is closest to the European Economic Area [EEA] which Norway and Iceland are party to, but its insufficiency is indicated by the latter’s preference for full membership. Germans always put forward such ideas but never give a clue as to their details. Would it, for instance, include freedom of movement [within the EU]? Freedom of movement is part of the EEA, but I don’t believe they would agree to freedom of movement for Turkish citizens. On the other hand, if the idea is to be reduced to integration in defense and security areas, what added value would it have to our NATO alliance?”
I find my diplomat friend’s warnings appropriate. I still ask, however, if the idea is to be developed jointly by Turkey and the EU, and if it would involve Turkey’s participation in the decision-making process in an increasing number of areas, why not? I even suspect this may suit Ankara’s preferences better. And if there is a will to do so, I’m sure the legal basis of such a relationship can be found.
The other warning came from Ali Yurttagül, an advisor to the Greens in the European Parliament. He wrote: “One needs to be pretty naive not to see that the only purpose of the ‘sectoral membership’ idea is to cast doubt on the accession negotiations… It would, therefore, not be wrong to expect that Ankara would not warm up to the idea of ‘sectoral membership’ as it has not to the idea of ‘privileged partnership’ and insist on continuing with negotiations for ‘full’ membership.” (Zaman, April 21, 2012) I am sure that Yurttagül is well aware that accession negotiations are pretty close to getting stuck. I doubt if the purpose of “certain circles in Germany” is “to cast doubt” on the accession negotiations, and suspect it has to do with finding a way out of the increasing prospect of getting them stuck. This prospect seriously worries many in Turkey like me who support the country’s integration with the EU in full or in stages. That is the reason why I ask “Why not?” if “sectoral membership” for Turkey in the EU does not preclude full membership.
What concerns and worries me most are the statements coming out of certain circles in Ankara about the EU having lost its relevance for Turkey, about Turkey no longer being in need of EU membership, about how lucky Turkey is to have stayed out, et cetera. I have no doubt that the EU can well manage without Turkey, and the derailment of EU accession would not at all be the end of the world for Turkey. I do, however, believe that Turkey’s integration with the EU would in both economic and political terms be of great mutual benefit to both, but especially for the latter. It is true that the EU is today experiencing the worst financial crisis in its history. Largely related to this, it has also become the stage for a very ugly and highly worrying rise of a racist, Islamophobic and Turkophobic tide. The greater probability, however, is that the EU will sooner or later recover from the crisis and its consequences, and continue to be the bastion of freedom and democracy and the intellectual center of the world. The accession process to the EU has greatly helped Turkey strengthen its economy and democracy. Turkey would surely continue to do so better if it were firmly anchored in the EU. The reverse may lead to negative consequences. Indications are not at all lacking. Democratic reforms have come to a stop.