Why should the EU play a role in Turkey?

Why should the EU play a role in Turkey?

The EU was once the major driving force of Turkey’s transformation process. That was a good blueprint for structural change. The EU was both an agent of change and our role model at the same time. Few people in Turkey still see it that way. One look at the Eurobarometer polls shows just how much the old continent has lost its allure. The image of the EU as a whole has been declining steadily in the eyes of Turks. Of course, the Europeans’ lack of confidence lately has not been helping. 

The decline in spirit is all about the crisis and the way the enlargement process has been managed. The enlargement process so far has been mechanical and sterile. Mechanical in the way chapters have been methodically opened and closed shut, sterile in the way civil society contributions were excluded in negotiations. We are now paying the price for those mistakes. That is why I welcome the idea of a “positive agenda,” a program aiming to change discourse and imbue the process with a second wind, thereby reinventing the basis of the EU-Turkey relationship. I believe however, that the process of reinvention has to involve the citizens of Turkey on the micro level. This can be done through a change in the modus operandi of Turkish accession. 

Let me for a moment sum up how we got to where we are today. Remember how happy people were back in October of 2005. Turkey, together with Croatia, was declared a candidate country in accession negotiations. The EU had enormous sway in Turkey. Now Croatia is set to join the EU as a member country some time in mid-2013. Turkey is still waiting as a candidate country with many chapters of the Acquis left untouched. Member countries are blocking some of them, others we are obstructing. The end result is that the EU-Turkey accession process has now been left chapter-less. As things are, we have nothing to talk about. It feels like a first date in which both sides of the table are checking their messages. 

The EU should surprise us. I was recently at a civil society organizations meeting in Ankara with Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle. There were people who had come from Edirne, Mersin, Diyarbakýr - faraway places. They all candidly explained their problems. It made me think that if Ankara is deaf to EU suggestions, maybe the EU should go directly to the people. A systematic public outreach program might be the way forward. If the EU could develop a smart strategy for Turkey, why can’t the EU have a role in Turkey?

Even the loftiest of high politics need to touch base with the people. That is why we need to reinvent the basis of the EU-Turkey partnership. It shouldn’t be too hard in the age of the Arab Spring. At the end of it, the EU would have a unique role in completing Turkey’s transformation process. 

All the EU needs is a one-sided, smart agenda to increase connectivity. That is what the Americans are doing in the entire Middle East and North Africa region.