However, EU negotiations are not currently underway and the EU’s popularity has substantially declined in Turkey. It is for this reason that the EU must strive to reopen negotiations. Turkey’s membership may not occur in the near future; however, the negotiations process is critical, both for Turkey and EU.
The Turkish Constitution was drafted under the previous military regime and the amendments approved in the referendum contain a certain set of democratic steps. The amendments restrict the armed forces from intervening in the judiciary. The changes will also enable Parliament and the president to have a stronger influence in the selection of judges and prosecutors, causing a major debate in Turkey. The opposition is afraid that Erdoğan’s Islamist party will seek an opportunity to act in a manner that is distant from the secular state. It is for this reason that with a 42 percent “no” vote, the referendum divided Turkey into two. Of course we can not reject these concerns all together. However the continuation of democratic political reforms that Turkey has implemented in compliance with the Western model is closely related to EU membership negotiations.
Unfortunately, however, membership negotiations have been stopped for now. Although negotiations were launched five years ago, only 12 chapters were opened for negotiation and only one has been completed. If we compare this with Croatia, which started negotiations at the same time, exactly 30 chapters have been opened for Croatia with 18 chapters completed. Since Cyprus refuses opening a large number of chapters, Turkey’s negotiations have been blocked by Cyprus.
The Cyprus issue is not the only roadblock to Turkey’s membership. According to a promise given several years ago, Turkey would be accepted as a member of the EU as long as it fulfilled the requirements for membership, yet the political leaders of France and Germany have clearly expressed that they do not want to see Turkey in the EU. However, in practice, it is Cyprus’s attitude that has paralyzed the negotiations.
There is a long history to Cyprus’ division. Before Turkey’s military intervention, which resulted in the separation of northern Cyprus (which is recognized only by Turkey) in 1974, Greek Cypriots treated the Turkish minority cruelly and undertook initiatives to unite Cyprus with Greece. It is for this reason that neither side can really say anything to each other.
While Cyprus was holding negotiations to join the EU, a plan to unite Cyprus was prepared with the support of the UN called the Annan plan and this plan was accepted by a large majority of Turkish Cypriots. The Greek Cypriot government promised to accept this plan but everything suddenly changed when it became a member of the EU. The government advised Greek Cypriots to vote against the plan and that is what they did. Of course it was a mistake for the EU to accept Cyprus as a member before this issue was resolved, but when Greece threatened to block expansion towards Central and Eastern Europe the EU succumbed to Greece’s blackmail and threats. Many people regret this today.
Since then -- like with many issues -- there have been agreements between Turkey and Cyprus about free trade as well as disagreements about accessing ports. Cyprus took advantage of the opportunities of its EU membership and blocked negotiations chapters that were set to be opened with Turkey. It was believed that the two sides, which had fought at one period, would reach an agreement. But in the beginning of this year Turkish Cypriots extinguished hopes of a compromise by electing a strong nationalist president as a result of the disappointment of being excluded.
The EU needs to put pressure on Cyprus in order for the negotiations to restart. It is unacceptable for one member to prevent the EU from making progress in one of its most important foreign policy problems. The failure to keep promises is affecting the EU’s international prestige negatively and Washington is having a hard time understanding why the EU is adopting a stance like this against a NATO-member country.
Turkey is a state whose importance is increasing as a regional superpower. There are some points over which Turkey should be closely followed, such as its relationship with Iran. Turkey plays a critical role in minimizing tension over several issues in the region. Politically, Turkey is becoming increasingly more important. Both as a country that builds a bridge between the Muslim world and as a very good example that demonstrates the compatibility between Islam and democracy.
Turkey has just come out of an economic crisis and it is displaying strong growth once again. In contrast to the EU’s minute 1 percent growth rate, Turkey is expected to grow 5 percent. Turkey is also an important member of G20. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) predicts that Turkey will be the second biggest economy in Europe in 2050. Thus, Turkey will be an extremely beneficial and powerful business partner for EU in the future.
It is for this reason that keeping the negotiations process alive is crucial. There are several problems that Turkey needs to solve in order to fulfill its membership conditions -- solving these problems will be in the EU’s interest. But the only condition is that the EU has to keep the promise it has given and stop constantly changing its position.
*Uffe Ellemann-Jensen is the former minister for foreign affairs for Denmark.