Keeping the EU’s economic anchor still crucial for Turkey

Keeping the EU’s economic anchor still crucial for Turkey

I am part of the generation that used to celebrate the “week of local products.” It was aimed to encourage the purchase of locally produced products. But these were the second half of the 1970’s and actually there were not many foreign products to purchase in the country anyway.

These were the years where a handful of industrialist families were getting rich by selling us old technology products and thus were against Turkey’s efforts to join the then European Community. It is thanks to the Customs Union (CU) in 1995 that we could finally get ahold of modern day technology products. Seeing competition coming from Europe, Turkish companies had to transform themselves. It is thanks to the CU that the Turkish private sector increased its competitiveness, gained self-confidence and was able to export its products of EU standards to other markets than Europe.

This is one of the issues underlined by the World Bank, which released recently an evaluation of the CU, since Turkey has been complaining so much about the problems that have emerged over the years that even a former minister has talked about its cancellation.  The World Bank report basically says the CU has been beneficial for both Turkey and the EU, but admits that problems have arisen due to the changes in both the global economy, as well Turkey’s economy. The World Bank makes some proposals and in fact offers more integration between the EU and Turkey, saying that could be a win-win for both.

While the report is not officially endorsed by either Ankara or the European Commission, it seems the two sides are deciding to start talks about how to get rid of the irritants in the implementation of the CU that would become increasingly troublesome. Both Turkey and the EU need to do its homework on that issue and apparently the EU Commissioner in charge of Trade Karel De Gucht’s meeting with the new minister Nihat Zeybekçi took place in a more positive atmosphere than the one that took place with his predecessor Zafer Çağlayan, known to be quite the CU skeptic.

While talking, the EU has now become a rare commodity in Turkey, just a day prior to the World Bank’s release of its report, the Independent Commission, made up of prominent European figures made public their own report on Turkey-EU relations. Commission members headed by Martti Ahtisaari, 2008 Nobel peace prize laureate and a former president of Finland, urged for an immediate change in EU-Turkey relations, saying 2014 may be the year to start the change.

“2014, the year of change in Turkish-EU relations!” This sounds like a joke. Not only is Turkey in the midst of election periods with the presidential elections and general elections to be held within a year, but so is Europe with elections of not only the European Parliament, but also for the heads of European Commission, as well as the European Council.

But 2014 could prove to be the year where ground work is laid down for the time when the wheels could start turning to increase relations, at least at the economic level. Starting talks to widen the scope of the CU could prove to be the right track for that. If Turkey is to start negotiations with the United States, which is conducting free trade talks with the European Union, it has to widen the CU anyway.

Keeping Turkey’s EU anchor is still crucial and could prove much more beneficial if the right approach is endorsed, avoiding ideological skepticism of Europe.