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December 18, 2012, Tuesday

Will Turkey walk out on the EU?

Given the depth of relations in all dimensions and the regional conjuncture, keeping Turkey’s accession process in paralysis is a result of tremendous misjudgment. The primary task is to revive it as soon as possible.

Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan, arguably the most rational and internationally respected figure in the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government, put it very clearly while in London recently, addressing turbulent Ankara more than anyone else.

Arguing that being anchored with the EU is crucial for domestic reform and openly complaining that discourse such as “We in Turkey are in a fine shape and the EU is not,” “Everything we do is the best” and “We are being made to suffer for membership which will not happen” only serve cheap political purposes at home, Babacan said: “The EU is Turkey’s project for the future, its democratization. If we desire to reach the level of an advanced democracy and rule of law, the EU process is very important to us.”

He voices a common expectation. From the moment Ireland takes over the presidency, the machine must be put back on track.

Will the ice be broken then? Titled “Will Turkey Find its Place in Post-Crisis Europe?” Nathalie Tocci and Dimitar Bechev, in a fresh analysis, attempt to seek answers.

Their initial assessment somewhat echoes the voice of Babacan: Yes Turkey cannot hide its Schadenfreude over the trouble-stricken Europe and its overconfidence due to robust growth, but the sense of empowerment elsewhere seems to have been reined in by the Syrian crisis, showing where the limits are. Yet, both authors argue that “it is precisely from the depths of the Union’s ongoing drama that a ‘post-hubris’ Turkey could rise from its ashes if and as it is brought organically into the conversation on the future shape of the European integration experiment.”

Tocci and Bechev go through the areas where the obstacles on both sides now lie. They repeat the well-based equation that the frost in the accession process and the loss of appetite on a public level in Turkey for membership has led to stagnation in reforms. In Turkey, they see three main backlashes: One, the Kurdish question has worsened and the backfiring regional activism of Turkey has brought it closer to NATO and the US rather than the EU. Two, freedom of expression and media has deteriorated lately. Three, problems related to the Turkish judiciary have worsened.

“Liberal reformers watch Turkey’s political evolution with concern, fearing that the culminating moment of Turkey’s democratization -- the new civilian constitution -- will end up in a flop. … many yearn for the long-lost EU political anchor,” they add.

But in the EU, commitment to the process is visible, albeit in disarray.

“Members that oppose Turkey’s membership are in [the] minority; for every skeptic in the Council there’s a pro-Turkish country. And with [François] Hollande’s election last May, France has moved from being the staunchest of opponents, to a neutral position. … Lately, skeptics have pointed at Turkey’s lackluster democratic performance, conveniently forgetting the fact that the EU might be complicit in this story,” they write.

Tocci and Bechev end up with a concern that “we have no more than a three-to-four year horizon before Turkey walks out on the Union, unless something dramatic happens in the meantime.”

What to do, then? Here are the parts of the conclusion: “What Turkey needs today is a European vision. An organic and active participation in the European-wide conversation over the future of the Union can provide just that. … different models, memberships and methods of the future EU will have different implications for Turkey, some of which would be preferable to others from Ankara’s vantage point. … For Turkish elites to take the initiative and in so doing being actively part of the European family is of the essence. … Above all, engaging Turkey in the conversation on the future of Europe could provide a vision to reignite momentum in Turkish-European ties and re-anchor Turkey to the Union.”

I can only add that Hollande is the key to opening the door. Paris, now rationally and realistically repositioned, must hurry. Let us see some chapters opened and the visa regime must be based on five-year-valid stamps on passports. It is high time for sound reason.

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