As I contended in Berlin I thought we never got married in the first place if we are to make the analogy of a marriage between Turkey and the European Union. It would be more appropriate to describe our relationship as one where we were brought together by our families and sort of started dating each other to see whether this could work or not. One side, Turkey used to be very eager to get married as soon as possible and reap the material benefits of this marriage. Turkey was the young and temperamental lover beneath the balcony -- playing the guitar -- with the expectation that the bride would come on the balcony. Over and over he would play the serenade with the aim to lure the beautiful princess into full and lasting bondage. However, Princess Europa would never agree to that. At times she would smile, but mostly she would bicker about the shortcomings of her suitor. A Turkish proverb says, “Too much reluctance tires the suitor.” Indeed, the Turkish suitor became tired. In the mean time, something interesting happened. Suddenly, all of the negative qualities of the princess came into the open. The mismanagement of her economy, the institutional crisis she found herself in as well her lack of self-confidence came to the fore... On the contrary, the suitor became rich and vibrant and gained considerable self-confidence. Currently, the two are giving the appearance that they are continuing to date, but mentally and emotionally the relationship is all but over. As there is too much at stake none of the parties are eager to take the responsibility of announcing the divorce, but there is trouble.
One of the most important problems overshadowing the relationship is this distant cousin that the princess has. He is from southern Cyprus. He is constantly bringing up obstacles and is making this relationship even more complicated. Needless to say this distant cousin has friends in the princess’ family, and they have long formed a coalition to make this marriage impossible. In many respects they have succeeded.
Under normal circumstances I would say that this is not going to work, and we need to part ways. But nothing is normal in Turkey and this relationship. Turkey is going though extraordinary times. The Turkish opposition is immensely weak and still does not show signs of recovery. The ruling party is extremely dominant. Under such circumstances the EU drive has assumed more domestic meaning for many Turks.
References to the EU still have some resonance and serve to instill hope to Turkey’s liberals that the link will ensure that Turkey will not go Islamist. Although many know that the promise to full membership rings hollow, they cling to it in hope that the association with Europe will serve for some insurance for their freedom and lifestyles. In this sense, the EU becomes -- albeit unwillingly -- a factor in Turkey’s ongoing culture wars.
The new “positive agenda” is unlikely to work. The agenda introduces new mechanisms for communication, including specific working groups, intended to accelerate Turkey’s compliance with the acquis communitaire in eight chapters, including two that are blocked for political reasons. But the efforts are insufficient to counter the underlying structural problems impeding Turkey’s now long-stalled EU accession.
The most prudent message in terms of Turkey-EU relations is to allow the EU to settle its own economic and institutional problems. We need to see whether Europe can grow again and whether its economies will remain competitive. Turkey could use the interim to put itself in order and to consolidate its efforts to become a normal democracy. Whether we wish to have a closer relationship is something we can determine then. Regardless of whether Turkey becomes a full member or not, Turkey and Europe will continue to cohabit the same geoeconomic, geocultural and geopolitical space.