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SEMİH İDİZ > Is Erdoğan looking to end the EU adventure?

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I concluded my last piece by saying that it was an absurdity for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to wink at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) – also referred to as “The Shanghai Five” based on the number of its original members – and suggest that if this organization admitted Turkey as a member, Ankara could consider abandoning the EU.

Be that as it may, it appears that he is not jesting when he points to the essentially security oriented organization – comprising Russia, China and three Central Asian republics – as an entity with which “Turkey shares values with” and could happily do business with.

The merits or demerits – and there are plenty of those – of Turkey’s joining the SCO is open to debate, of course.

The topic here, however, is Turkey’s EU perspective. There are those who argue that by referring to SCO membership, Erdoğan is merely applying pressure on EU to get it to stick to its promises. Thorbjorn Jagland, the secretary general of the Council of Europe who is expected in Turkey today, is also of this opinion.

“I may be mistaken, but Prime Minister Erdoğan’s remarks actually represent a call to Europeans to assume a more constructive and positive attitude toward Turkey,” Jagland said in an interview with daily Hürriyet yesterday.

Fielding journalists’ questions before flying off to Prague on Feb. 2, Erdoğan in fact left little room for interpretation. Pointing out that the SCO is not just a security organization, but one which with an economic cooperation dimension as well, he nevertheless conceded that it was not an alternative to the EU.

Erdoğan also said SCO membership did not necessarily mean one had to give up on the EU, although he added tellingly that it is not inconceivable that one may do this. But his subsequent remarks are bound to raise eyebrows in Europe.

“Does not a country that has been kept at Europe’s door for 50 years have to finally arrive at a decision?” Erdoğan said, calling on the EU to make its position on Turkey crystal clear. “We are saying; ‘Do it if you are going to; and if not, say so openly,’” he added, indicating that he would be traveling to Brussels soon where he would bring the matter up.

Although these remarks are not unique, Erdoğan nevertheless appears to be relying on increasing anti-EU sentiments in Turkey and gradually building a case against Ankara’s EU bid. It was also interesting for him to refer to Prime Minister David Cameron’s promise to hold a referendum on whether Britain should remain in the EU or not if he is re-elected.

Erdoğan was clearly suggesting that giving up on the EU is not inconceivable for a member state, let alone for a candidate country. These words will go down well in Turkey. Even Jagland, in his interview with Hürriyet, faulted those who “maintain that the EU is a Christian union, and that a Muslim country like Turkey, with its large population, cannot be a member” for the loss of Turkey’s EU enthusiasm.

History, which Barbara Tuchman says is marked by folly, will judge who is really at fault in driving Turkey away from the EU – and most likely from Europe – and whether this was good or bad in terms of “the big picture,” whatever the workaday fears and obsessions of the common European or Turk may be.

What is certain is that Turkey’s accession to the EU or abandonment thereof will have regional, as well as global ramifications, since it is a country that is not in stasis anymore, but one that is politically and economically virile and searching for its future.

As matters stand, it appears that Ankara’s commitment to the EU is “wafer thin” – to use Cameron’s characterization of his own country’s commitment to the union – and that it will end this adventure of half a century, which today represents nothing more than frustration for the average Turk, as soon as it finds a viable alternative.

February/05/2013

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Dutchman

2/7/2013 5:39:30 AM

@mara mcglothin There is never a guarantee, even the EU negociations are no such guarantee; Turkey is throwing progress reports (or rather, regress reports) into the waste bin and already started writing its own. Europe's leverage over Turkey has long been lost, but EU leaders like to keep this illusion alive. By continuing to fool ourselves frustration grows stronger on both sides, which is not exactly a good inventive for reforms, rather the opposite...

mara mcglothin

2/6/2013 7:34:20 PM

DUTCHMAN The only problem with that is there will be no safeguards in place to insure that Turkey continues down the path to full democracy. The AKP had an incredible chance and missed it. If Turkey had been quicker to comply with EU norms then it wouldn't have taken so long. I would love to see the EU deny Turkey had they complied with all the standards, then that would be a completely different situation and many like myself would have defended Turkey's right to join. Now?

Dutchman

2/5/2013 9:24:39 PM

@mara mcglothin People are fed up with waiting for something that will never happen, on both sides. It is absolutely obvious that an eventual future referendum on Turkish accession will end in an overwhelming no vote, so why postpone the decision even longer? Erdogan is right in stating that after 50 years, it is time for a decision. When TR abandons its EU membership bid, it can still continue to implement EU norms. All it would do is end frustration and create some goodwill on all sides.

world citizen

2/5/2013 9:05:52 PM

Populist discourse doesn't change the facts: EU is the largest economical bloc in the world Having problems today in the EU dont mean they won't be solved tomorrow (sorry EU haters) EU is NOT a Christian club, it is Turkey that is being too islamic now TR is a medium income country riddled with structural problems TR is an APPLICANT, not a king maker in the EU enlargement process,please be humble

Thessalonian

2/5/2013 8:47:59 PM

Following are the reasons why I believe Turkey should continue its EU accession process and remain a NATO member. EU membership will be financially beneficial for Turkey while ushering an atmosphere which is conducive to the continuation of the much needed political and constitutional reforms. NATO membership will ensure security in an area which has been historically volatile. As far as the Cyprus issue is concerned, I believe it is rectifiable with some compromises by all involved. Regards

Murat

2/5/2013 8:10:17 PM

The man floats these baloons all the time. I think the essence of his position and strategy is that Turkey needs to open new venues and establish new relationships. Keep in mind, he is always trying to maximize economic activity, jobs, exports and trade. Why do you think he is still in power? EU was always a civilization project for Turkey and it never made sense to his ilk why that was so.

mara mcglothin

2/5/2013 6:20:36 PM

SUPERTRAMP If makes no difference if Turkey decides to join the EU or not! It is in the reforms that are expected to bring Turkey to EU standards that counts. Get to that point and then it to the public for a vote. Simple. I don't believe that RTE ever wanted to join the EU and participated only because the general public was for it at the time. Didn't you know?...democracy is like a train and his stop is fast approaching

JRC JRC

2/5/2013 6:19:14 PM

@supertramp. The proof is to "wait around and watch" is it? The evidence suggests that such proof will be flimsy at best. Turkey is doing well at the moment, but has a history of self-destructing, nothing much has changed to stop this. Its economy has yet to prove sustainable over the long-term, with inward investment dropping last year and not looking much better for 2013. Corruption is still a major problem, and the black economy more so. There's a long way to go yet, for proof.

Johanna Dew

2/5/2013 5:37:08 PM

@supertramp: you fail to understand that the EU is and will stay the largest economical entity in the world (3 x China !!) and in good relations and agreements with almost the complete world. Dont piss them off brother..) @blue: the EU is only interested in a strict secular Turkey now realizing that they made some mistakes regarding AKP government.

anton supertramp

2/5/2013 2:43:49 PM

Johanna oh dear you worry for us so much, nobody cares for eu anymore what part of this you dont want to understand? :) turkey will be betetr off herself wheter you like it or not want proof? just wait around and watch :)
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