The future of Turkey-EU relations in a time of global uncertainty
Processes of global transformation has given rise to new geopolitical realities, which have significantly challenged the West’s central position as the leader of the world. The axis of power that was the fundamental determinant in international relationships is shifting from the West to the East—from the Atlantic alliance led by the US and EU to a Pacific access consisting of countries like Russia, China, and India.
European integration has not been immune to the shifting tides in the international system. Some of the major challenges facing the EU are the rise of the radical right in elections over the last few years, the US’s changing international role, a trend towards isolationism, the refugee problem, and in particular the deepening divisions within the EU over this issue. The US’ waning commitment to multilateralism and the resulting breakdown in transatlantic relations has forced the EU to reconsider its role in the international system and how it should shape its future by using its own resources, especially when it comes to security.
In truth, Turkey’s EU membership is more important than ever given the new dynamics and changes in the world order. The international system needs Turkey-EU cooperation in order to solve a number of global problems, ranging from the economy and energy to foreign policy, as well as discrimination and terrorism—within the context of our common values. Therefore, it is essential that Turkey-EU relations reach a certain level of strength and the EU develop a fair and principled approach towards Turkey.
Today, it is unclear what the EU wants or what its goals are in its relations with Turkey. After all, Turkey has still not been able to achieve the progress it deserves and wants from the accession negotiations despite them beginning more than a decade ago. The EU’s approach to relations with Turkey in the last few years cannot be considered separately from the internal crises in the Union and changes in the international system. The issue is the EU’s failure to properly interpret developments both within the Union and outside of it on a global level. However, there are numerous EU leaders who recognize the key role that Turkey will play in overcoming the existential crises that the EU is facing. One example of this is the Turkey-EU Summit that our President had with EU Council President Donald Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, and Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov in Varna on 26 March 2018.
The Varna Summit was beneficial in that it renewed trust in Turkey-EU relations, which is currently going through a difficult phase. The leaders’ affirmation of the importance of Turkey-EU cooperation and the emphasis on Turkey’s candidacy at the highest levels, especially as the EU has once again put expansion back on the agenda, is another positive sign that the prospect of membership still valid.
For Turkey, the most important priority is opening the way to accession negotiations. However, the EU has not fulfilled its commitment to complete preparations for beginning negotiations on the chapters blocked by Cyprus. The accession negotiations are the backbone of Turkey-EU relations. It is impossible to realize the full potential of the relationship until there is progress in this area. A definitive membership plan with a timeline must be provided for our country as was outlined in the Western Balkan Strategy. The other two fundamental issues required to maintain the constructive atmosphere established at the Varna Summit is completing the visa liberalization talks, granting Turkish citizens visa exemption, and updating the Customs Union.
The most important thing about the Varna Summit will be turning the positive atmosphere into concrete policies and practices. Overcoming the problems in the Turkey-EU relationship will have significant benefits not only for Turkey and the EU but also for our region, the international system, and global peace.
Turkey has been pursuing EU membership for more than half a century, and this pursuit reflects the history of how Europe became the “Europe” of today. Turkey will continue to be a “key country” for the stability and prosperity of Europe and the world in the future.
* Ömer Çelik is the Minister for EU Affairs and Chief Negotiator of the Republic of Turkey. This is an abridged version of the original published in Turkish Policy Quarterly’s (TPQ) Spring 2018 issue.