President Abdullah Gül, held a tête-à-tête with France’s newly elected President François Hollande, and asked him three questions: 1. What is your interest in posing obstacles to Turkey’s European Union membership bid? 2. What conflicting interests do France and Turkey have? 3. Is it in your interest that a French president has not visited Turkey for 20 years?
Why he is so reproachful is obvious. During the term of former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, France was one of the leading countries that blocked Turkey’s EU membership, followed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Turkey’s road to full membership has been filled with problems and obstacles due to opposition from the two leading countries of the union.
Turkey’s full membership negotiations with the EU started in 2005. Although some countries who applied for membership at a later date have become full members, we are still being hindered from making any progress. There is strong opposition to Turkey’s EU membership both from within Turkey and without.
Main reasons for this opposition from the European side are Turkey’s identity as a Muslim country, its rapidly increasing population, the relatively younger age of its population and potential problems the immigration of large number of Turkish people to Europe may cause. Sarkozy and Merkel openly said Turkey, being a dominantly Muslim country, cannot be a part of Europe. Instead, they suggested that the union should strike a privileged partnership deal with Turkey. But Turkey declined their proposal.
So far, membership negotiations have been derailed. Since 2005, Turkey has managed to open only 13 chapters in accession negotiations. Out of 20 chapters that are not opened, 17 were frozen. Of these, eight were suspended by the EU Council because Turkey refused to open up its ports to Greek Cyprus-flagged vessels. Five chapters were frozen because of the French veto. Although Turkey established the Ministry for EU Affairs to indicate that it is attaching great importance to its EU bid, it has received only humiliating treatment from Europe.
Why do we, then, insist on becoming a member of the EU? Here, I should note, Europe’s perspective is not monolithic. There are those who welcome Turkey’s membership and insist on facilitating its bid. Certain groups including EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle and certain European countries back Turkey’s membership. Indeed, Füle paid a visit to our country last week. He held talks with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and chief EU negotiator Egemen Bağış. These talks focused on the “Positive Agenda,” an initiative invented to blow fresh air into the sails of Turkey’s EU bid. The Positive Agenda is a mode of operation which ensures that we will be ready when the blocked chapters are opened. It is a sort of active patience. It is in force in eight different areas including energy and social policies. The psychological and motivating impact of this is the icing on the cake. So this initiative is a show of our resolve.
Turkey’s EU membership is really important. Look, Turkey is finding itself in a new state of polarization after warding off the old one. Ongoing trials of coups and coup attempts are making pro-tutelage groups unhappy. The guardians of the status quo are resisting. The events leading up to the Uludere incident, in which 34 civilians were mistaken for terrorists and killed by military airstrikes in Şırnak’s Uludere district due to false intelligence, have not been illuminated in the five months since it happened. The critical homestretch for drafting a new constitution has started. Today, Turkey needs to ride on the EU bid wave more than ever. As a matter of fact, those who favor democratization inside and in Europe are being tested.
Turkey’s EU membership is very important both for Europe and for the global system. There is no project more important than Turkey’s EU membership for the sake of global peace and the alliance of civilizations. Muslims living in Europe, the Muslim-dominated countries like Albania and Bosnia, the Turkic world and the Muslim world are all focused on the fate of this membership. Europe and the world will not be able to cope with polarization and conflicts stemming from racism and Islamophobia. Turkey’s EU membership is a historic opportunity for abolishing prejudices and creating a sound climate for co-existence and integration in the new millennium.