Our politicians and their supporters in the media did not only ignore the EU accession process thanks to a few pretexts such as Nicolas Sarkozy, Angela Merkel and Cyprus, but they also belittled the EU because of its financial problems. Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu’s recent trip to Paris last week is a good sign that Turkey has decided to focus on the EU for good reasons such as the trouble we have faced in Syria. The Justice and Development Party (AKP) always said that even if the EU halts Turkey’s accession process, Turkey would change the Copenhagen criteria into Ankara criteria and continue reforming the country. Unfortunately, this did not happen. The AKP has been suffering from “Eurofatigue,” and the reform process has been very slow. In contrast to the past, our politicians stopped visiting EU capitals and when they did they preferred to speak to the Turkish domestic audience rather than to their foreign hosts. Despite many promises, the issues of transparency, accountability, civil-military relations were not properly dealt with. Especially after the financial crisis in some EU countries, maybe not the politicians directly, but their close supporters in the media were simply making fun of the EU. Moreover, Turkey very strongly declared that during Cyprus’ EU presidency, Turkey would freeze its relations with the EU. Despite this declaration, a few days after the start of the Cyprus presidency with Davutoğlu’s visit to France, we now read completely different comments and news stories about Turkey-EU relations. I am very happy with this. I have always held the belief that transitory, right-wing politicians such as Sarkozy and Merkel will go one day so Turkey should not stop or slow down its EU reforms.
Zero problems with neighbors was a good approach in its time. The conjecture was appropriate and especially Iraq, Iran and Syria needed Turkey on their side. Our economic and political relations had improved, and this gave us self-confidence, even an exaggerated self-confidence, and we were inclined to think that the EU process was not essential any more. With the Syrian crisis, we have painfully observed that our soft power has limits. When our politicians started threatening the brutal terrorist Assad regime that massacres its own people, our soft power started eroding. To compensate for this, our politicians’ advisors are now talking about Turkey being a smart power, but they forget that smart powers do not call themselves smart powers, they are just smart powers. They also seem to ignore how this new rhetoric will be perceived in Middle Eastern political circles and in the public and how it will be manipulated with negative Ottoman or neo-Ottoman connotations. Democratization of Turkish foreign policy was good to get rid of the Kemalist oligarchy’s securitization practices. But now fusing domestic politics with foreign policy is simply harming our foreign policy, soft power and international reputation.
Even the AKP supporters who were very critical of NATO are now hoping a NATO help to get rid of the Assad regime whose extended life simply challenges the charisma and prestige of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government, which miscalculated Assad’s fate, assuming it would be similar to that of deceased Libyan leader Moammer Gaddafi. Currently Turkey has no choice but stick to the Western pact. I am not saying that previously we turned our back to the West but we were obviously cold towards them. There was only one exception because of both Israel and the PKK: The Obama administration. That is why despite our pro-Iranian rhetoric, Turkey had to accept the location of NATO’s missile shield in Eastern Anatolia, which completely changed the attitude of US policy makers towards Turkey. Iran justifiably perceived the location of the missile shield as an act against it since it is not against Georgia or Armenia. Now, it seems that in addition to the US, Turkey will try to revive its relations with other major European countries as a result of appreciating its limits in the region. For instance, do not expect to hear the AKP’s old and very harsh rhetoric against Merkel again. It is good to revive our relations with the Europeans but at what cost? I do hope that speeding up the EU reforms, re-opening the Halki seminary as soon as possible, meaning now, further democratization, increasing transparency and accountability are the only sacrifices that I am indeed willing to make. But I do not think that this will be enough. Time will tell.