In a recent press interview, Orhan Pamuk said that Turkey’s EU project “has fallen apart.” These words, coming from a Nobel Prize winner and a writer whose books I admire, made a big impression on me.
As the EU commissioner responsible for enlargement policy, I deal on a daily basis with the various aspects of EU-Turkey relations and I can certainly say that our joint project has not been abandoned; on the contrary, important recent initiatives have injected new energy and new hope. But I do think that Pamuk’s words reflect the mood often felt on both sides and that they come at the right moment. I see them as a wake-up call at a time when the EU and Turkey are both at a crossroads and need to take decisive steps forward on their common path.
That our path is common, few seem to question. When I ask my Turkish partners where they see Turkey in five, 10 or 20 years from now, they all say “anchored in Europe.” When I put the same question to my interlocutors and politicians in the EU, the answer is the same: they see Turkey’s future as a modern European state. We should not forget all that unites us, or let the current problems overshadow it.
There are problems in the EU-Turkey relationship, there’s no point denying it. Some soul searching needs to be done on both sides. Sometimes contradictory messages from Europe regarding Turkey’s accession may be confusing. On the other hand many in the EU have grown impatient over Turkey’s slow pace of reforms, of worrying setbacks regarding human rights issues and about Turkey’s reluctance to open its ports and airports to all EU member states.
Why then does my faith in Turkey’s EU project remain intact?
A simple look at the daily news confirms the magnitude of our common challenges and the range of reasons why the EU’s and Turkey’s futures are bound together: the economic slowdown, energy security, environment, dialogue between civilizations, enforcement of democracy, human rights and the rule of law and, last but not least, the stability of our joint neighborhood in the context of the Arab Spring and the dramatic developments in Syria. The EU and Turkey need to work hand in hand to successfully tackle all these challenges.
This is why we have launched the positive agenda: It is not an alternative to the accession process -- on the contrary, its aim is to revive it after a period of stagnation, to allow the EU to continue to be the benchmark for reforms in Turkey. And we are succeeding; only five months after its launch we have already achieved results: most of the joint working groups on alignment with EU laws and standards in various areas have all come together for their first meeting. The EU committed to take steps towards visa liberalisation in parallel with the signature of the readmission agreement between Turkey and the EU. We decided to enhance cooperation on a number of important energy issues such as market integration for gas and electricity or renewable energy and energy efficiency. We intensified our dialogue on foreign policy issues, including Syria.
So while there are stumbling blocks in our relationship, there is also a lot that is going in the right direction. This allows me to say today, just as I said when I first came to Turkey as the EU commissioner nearly three years ago: I believe Turkey can become a member of the EU. We have a joint commitment toward this goal.
*Stefan Füle is the EU commissioner for enlargement and the European neighborhood policy.