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November 26, 2012, Monday

European turmoil’s and the Turkish accession

In the last 10 days I have participated in two seminars on Turkey-EU relations. The first one was organized by the Bosporus Institute, a French-Turkish think tank founded by the Turkish Industrialists and Businessmen's Association (TÜSİAD), where important French academics and politicians took the floor and the second one by Galatasaray University where experts on the EU from various Turkish universities discussed the state of Turkey-EU relations and the way to overcome existing difficulties.

No doubt, the EU is in great turmoil. In the seminar at the Bosporus Institute, Thierry de Montbrial, director of the French Institute of International Relations, (IFRI) drew a very urgent picture of Europe. He pointed out that the EU has no governance, and there is the risk of an explosion. According to IFRI's director, the EU has enlarged too rapidly for political reasons without pushing integration comprehensively enough. Now, the crisis it faces is basically an institutional one, and the EU has to be redesigned. The realistic alternative is a new institutional set up formed by a hard core in the middle and by other members with a more flexible relationship with those central countries. Last but not least, de Montbrial added that Turkey has its place in this new framework.

I totally agree with him. In my column of Oct. 24, “Reshaping Europe presents new opportunity for Turkey,” I asserted: “One size does not fit all. Clearly, the EU should be reformed into an inner circle of economically strong members and an outer circle with the remaining members.” Let me point out that this was also the thinking of Kemal Derviş in a recent article in which he defended “a new Europe” that will have “an integrated part with a common currency and a common fiscal policy, while some other members will not participate in this integration.” Derviş also asserts that this reshaping, giving way to a “multiple speed Europe,” presents an opportunity for Turkey to achieve EU membership.

In the Galatasaray University seminar, two concepts were frequently used by speakers: “explosion of self confidence in Turkey” and “mutual dependence of EU and Turkey.” Since the EU entered a period of crisis, while Turkey was experiencing a spectacular growth performance, Justice and Development Party (AK Party) ministers, especially Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, did not refrain from denigrating the EU and praising Turkey. It is true that Turkey had a very rapid and strong recovery from the crisis of 2008-09, but it is also true that its growth has greatly decelerated nowadays, and one cannot be sure that it will be able to reach its potential growth of 5 percent in the near future. Now, I have to underline once again that Turkey absolutely needs this potential growth in order to control an unemployment rate of 9 percent.

How can this be achieved? I have to point out that the EU continues to be the main market for Turkish exports (a 38 percent share) despite the recent decline due to the European recession. Turkey will crucially need the EU when the recession ends to continue its export-led growth. Also, Turkey continues to crucially need European investments, which constitute three-quarters of overall foreign direct investments (FDI). Do not forget that our current account deficit, albeit on a decreasing path, is still above 7 percent, and it has to be financed mostly by the FDI. I think that we need more modesty when talking about Turkish economic performance.

On the other hand, as pointed out recently by EU Commissioner for Enlargement Stefan Füle: “Turkey and the EU have many common interests, and Turkey is a key country for the EU. … It is in our mutual interest that accession negotiations regain their momentum, notably also to allow the EU to remain the benchmark for Turkey's reforms.” But this momentum risks, sooner or later, being totally lost if a clear perspective for membership is not given. Turkey has no interest in fully adopting EU legislation and policies as long as full membership is not guaranteed. It should also be noted that such a perspective would largely facilitate a negotiated solution in Cyprus, which has been defined as the main political obstacle to the membership negotiations in the Galatasaray University seminar.

Mensur Akgün, one of the best Turkish specialists of the Cyprus problem, made a very interesting analysis about the state of negotiations and its future in the seminar. Akgün thinks that the presidential elections that will be held at the beginning of next year present a serious opportunity to be seized by the Turkish side. As the polls suggest, this election will likely be won by Nikos Anastasiadis, the leader of the opposition party DISI, who seems to be more courageous and more decided than Greek Cypriot leader Dimitris Christofias to find a solution to the this thorny conflict that has lasted more than 40 years and in which Turkish and Greek Cypriots, as well as Turkey and the EU are the losers.

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