Turkey’s ministers to review reforms on ‘EU day’

Turkey’s ministers to review reforms on ‘EU day’

Tomorrow is Europe’s day. The “Schuman declaration” delivered by French Foreign Minister Robert Schuman on May 9, 1950 is considered to be the beginning of the creation of what is now the European Union.

I recall that in the mid-2000s, when there was a honeymoon between Turkey and Europe stimulated mainly by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government’s outstanding reform program, there also used to be visible activities to mark the day in Turkey. These were the days when Prime Minister Recep Tayip Erdoğan had said he had taken off the jacket of the “Milli Görüş” (“national view” in English), the ideology that had framed religious parties in Turkey, in a clear implication that the AKP would be more global, liberal and western-looking in contrast to its predecessors.

However, it seems that the jacket that came around with the EU reforms has proven to be “X-large.” The king of social engineering Erdoğan nowadays deems fit an “X-small,” if not an “XX-small,” jacket for the Turkish nation.

As enthusiasm for the EU bid faded, who needs to celebrate Europe day?

Well, Turkish–EU relations are never that simple.

Surprisingly, Ankara will mark the day with a meeting of the Reform Monitoring Group, (RİG, in its Turkish initials), the last meeting of which took place approximately a year ago. The meeting will be attended by the foreign minister, the justice minister, and the interior minister, and will be chaired by the EU minister.

Here is the RİG’s agenda:

- Justice and fundamental rights
- The democratization package
- Freedom of expression

Sounds like a joke, doesn’t it? One might think that not much could be achieved with the current mentality in Ankara. However, the “beast” called the reform process is an experienced one. It is used to fighting against all odds. For years with few exceptions all these reforms have been endorsed, most of the time against strong resistance. It has been small victories gained in different battlefields that have taken Turkey so far. Indeed, Turkey’s journey to the EU has been like the janissary walk: Two steps forward one step backward. Yet it’s been an upward journey, rather than a downward one.

The people dedicated to the cause have mattered in this endeavor. It is therefore encouraging to see a seasoned Eurocrat like Stefano Manservisi recently be appointed to head the EU delegation in Turkey.

Manservisi used to work in the European Commission’s home affairs office, which actually dealt with the painful negotiations between the EU and Ankara that finally ended with the deal that could open the way for visa liberalization for Turkish citizens. Turkey’s envoy to Brussels, Selim Yenel, and Manservisi are said have played an important role in overcoming several stalemates that appeared throughout the lengthy process.

My understanding is that Manservisi is a man of action. He does not like to get stuck in deadlocks and uses creative solutions to get around impasses. This is exactly what is needed in Turkish–EU relations, which is often a total stalemate on many fronts. There have been and still are many reasons to be frustrated with Turkey’s membership bid. However, those truly dedicated to it has no luxury of being exhausted, and it is thanks to their efforts that Turkey’s EU journey has been set on an irreversible track and will remain so in the future.