I have never invested my hopes on Turkey’s EU membership bid process for the democratization of the country due to various reasons. However, if I were among those ruling Turkey, I would take relations with EU very seriously. The same is true for the EU. Leaving aside the membership process, the recent example of Hungary has shown that even EU membership does not guarantee democratization in any country.
Nevertheless, being a candidate for membership should matter for both the EU and Turkey.
Even if Turkey is not a full member of the EU and the conservative government is no longer eager to be one, Turkey is tightly linked to the community in many ways, such as through economic and political agreements. On top of everything, Turkey is a member of the “Western Club” politically and strategically, and EU membership candidacy is only a part of it. After all, it is not easy to shift international alignments and commitments.
Recently, Turkey inclined to rely on its “important role” as a “model and mediator” in Middle Eastern affairs for its idiosyncrasies.
Nevertheless, in fact, the so-called “Arab Spring” diminished the importance of Turkey and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) at the expense of the growing role of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood. In addition, it has been seen on one hand that the Turkish model is too secular for Arab countries to be imported as a model and, on the other, Turkey seems to be falling too far behind Western democratic standards to be presented as “a model democracy” by the West.
Moreover, the circumstances are making it more and more difficult for Turkey to play the role of the mediator. Instead, Turkey is being expected to comply rather than mediate the politics of the Western Club (the EU and United States combined) in the region. That is why the political space to maneuver is getting more constrained. I am not sure if the government fully comprehends its diminishing role and possible shortcomings, but the NATO
“missile shield agreement” and inconsistent/inefficient Iranian policy are overt indicators. The delusion concerning Turkey’s regional importance had a lot of impact on domestic politics. In addition, the government obviously thinks that the de facto withdrawal from EU membership gives it a free hand in domestic politics. Nevertheless, regardless of whether the EU is closely watching the prospects for democracy in Turkey or not, Turkey cannot behave as if it has no link with the EU and the Western world for long. Besides, the EU and the Western world in general cannot continue to ignore Turkey’s democratic failings, not only in terms of media freedom but especially for the repressive policies against the Kurds.
I think the time is running out for both Turkey and its Western allies to be more serious and concerned – especially for their deteriorating images: Turkey’s as “a failing democracy” and the EU’s as “a failing democratic community.”