That the European Union is going through an economic crisis might lead some to argue that now is the worst time for Europeans to seriously consider the revitalization of the accession negotiations with Turkey.
However at closer inspection it becomes clear that right now is the most appropriate time to value Turkey’s potential membership in the EU. The calls for multi-speed Europe has gained new ground as it has become clear that the 17-member Euro-zone has failed to act as a single economic actor. While France and Germany, together with the Nordic countries, argue for a more intensive economic integration based on the primacy of Euro and German leadership, the Mediterranean members of the Euro-zone have thus far found it difficult to harmonize their economic policies with those of the rich ones and put the main responsibility for their current economic crises on the shoulders of the bigwigs. An additional factor undermining the EU’s power of attraction in the realm of economics has been the EU’s begging for credit at the door of the Chinese Central Bank.
Similar to the crisis within the Euro-zone, EU members face another strong schism concerning their ability to unite around common foreign, defense and security policies. When it entered into force in December 2009, many observers assumed that the Lisbon Treaty would pave the way for closer cooperation and collaboration on hard-politics issues. However, the record up to day suggests that rather than uniting around common EU flag, member states have further drifted apart from each other in foreign, security and defense policy issues. For example Germany abstained in the United Nations Security Council voting on the authorization of NATO force in Libya and 27 members disagreed if it would be a right decision to support Palestine’s membership in UNESCO. Furthermore, France and the United Kingdom decided to intensify their defense cooperation in bilateral platforms outside of the EU framework. Rather than the ‘permanent structured cooperation’ clause of the Lisbon Treaty, bilateral mechanisms have shaped and enabled Franco-British cooperation. Moreover, the EU members seem to have failed to respond to the so-called Arab Spring with clearly articulated, credible and uniform policies.
Novel at this juncture is that while the EU seems to have been going from one crisis to another, Turkey seems to have been performing well in economics, internal reforms and foreign policy. Even though many pundits have recently made strong criticisms of the so-called ‘zero problems with neighbors’ policy of the current Justice and Development Party government, it would be fair to argue that Turkey has so far proven to be one of those countries having been affected by the Arab-Spring the least negatively. Despite the emerging tensions in Turkey’s bilateral relations with Assad’s Syria, Ahmedinejad’s Iran and Israel, Turkish leaders have taken an utmost care to make sure that Turkey would from now on be on the side of the ‘people power’ and democracy. This stance in favor of liberal democratic transformation across the Middle East has already added up to Turkey’s power of attraction vis-à-vis other regional actors, most notably Iran and Saudi Arabia. The ongoing improvement in Turkey’s relations with the United States is also worth noting in this context.
All these suggest that the need on the part of the European Union to seek Turkey’s cooperation will likely increase while Turkish leaders will resist the idea that this cooperation should be defined outside of the accession process. The crisis within the EU area ranging from economics to foreign and defense policy realms will probably give additional ammunition to the ideas of ‘multi-tier Europe’, ‘variable geometry’ and ‘ differentiated membership’. It is now the most opportune time for Turkey to avail itself of this emerging flexibility inside the EU and accelerate its Europeanization process at home and abroad. A malfunctioning EU taking on a more flexible character at the turn of every crisis will find it increasingly difficult to postpone the eventual membership of a further Europeanizing Turkey which might provide remedy to EU’s problems.
»» Assoc.Prof.Dr. Tarık Oğuzlu, Bilkent University, Department of International Relations