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January 28, 2013, Monday

Turning towards the East

The high hopes and euphoria that accompanied the start of Turkey's EU accession talks in 2005 have somewhat collapsed as the process has been extremely slow due to adamant opposition to Turkey's membership by a number of EU member countries.

Amid fading hopes for the EU process, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said on Friday that Turkey is seriously considering seeking membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as an alternative at a time when the EU's future looks increasingly dim. However, despite frustration with the slow progress, most Turkish columnists still insist that EU membership is a goal worth pursuing, even if we have to wait many years to get there.

Cengiz Çandar from Radikal says there are two ways to interpret Erdoğan's remark. It is either muscle-flexing for the EU, which the EU certainly won't fall for, or he sincerely means what he said as he is indeed tired of the EU bid and considers the Shanghai Five to be a strategic alternative. Regardless of which interpretation is true, Erdoğan's remark will surely have a serious impact on Europe. Quoting Professor Mensur Akgün, Çandar says Turkey turning towards the East will shake the whole world's balance. “If the world powers realize that Turkey indeed aims to pursue joining the Shanghai Five, they will start attempting to overthrow the AK Party [Justice and Development Party] government. This is why it is not easy for Turkey to switch its goal. On the other hand, the prime minister might think that [the Shanghai Five is better] but Turkey is not ruled only by the prime minister,” Akgün says.

Çandar agrees with the comments, saying the prime minister has long had his eyes fixed on the East. The words “we,” “our civilization” and “our values” which he used frequently in his recent speeches was not referring to Western civilization or Western norms. Also, the goal of leading the Islamic world has been the backbone of Turkey's foreign policy lately.

Çandar thinks it is true that it is the fault of some European politicians and countries in discouraging Turkey's EU bid, but it is also a fact that Turkey will not improve its democratic norms and human rights by staying out of the EU. If Turkey turns its back on Brussels and shifts its attention towards Shanghai, it will become as “democratic” as Russia, China, Kazakhstan or Iran, the columnist notes.

Bugün's Gülay Göktürk thinks Erdoğan is right to become tired of the EU bid. But, she asks, what “common values” does Turkey have with the member countries of the Shanghai Five, which are mostly ruled by dictatorships? Would it really be better for Turkey to give up on the EU, which has a “commitment to democracy and freedoms” as its basic principle and turn towards another bloc that has dictatorship as its common point? Göktürk says no.

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