Turkey and Europe head to crossroads

Turkey and Europe head to crossroads

The European Union issued a bitter progress report on its everlasting candidate Turkey last month. It was the toughest one in the last ten years, which means that for the first time in 10 years - the 10-year rule of the Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) - the EU started to focus on the empty part of the glass.

Does it mean that the credit that the EU gave to the Turkish government has started to diminish?
That may not be the correct question, the picture is more complicated than that.

First of all, we have to consider those ten years in two different periods: 2002-2005 and 2005-2012, years of rise and decline. In the first period, Turkey had a good performance in passing nine constitutional amendments in order to provide harmony between the Turkish legal system and the EU. The Tayyip Erdoğan government managed to change the Turkish paradigm over Cyprus as well.
However, when the EU upgraded the candidate status of the Greek Cypriot government (also representing the Turkish part of the island) in 2004 - despite a referendum in which Turks voted for and Greeks voted against the U.N. sponsored reunification plan - things started to turn sour.

The EU has been experiencing the six-month term presidency of the Greek Cypriot government since July, a presidency that will be finished by the end of 2012. In a way, individual EU governments listed all their criticisms of Turkish democracy in this year’s progress report, criticisms that many of them decline to tell the Turkish government elsewhere out of economic or political calculations.

When the EU started to put additional obstacles on Turkey’s road in 2005, Erdoğan had said that remaining a part of European system was more important then being a member of the EU, and that if fulfilling the Copenhagen Criteria was not sufficient enough for the EU then Turkey could carry on with the Ankara Criteria. In an AK Parti convention over the weekend, he even opened up the issue of bringing back the death penalty while ruling out the release of the imprisoned-for-life leader of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), Abdullah Öcalan, because of the ongoing hunger strikes. He did not explicitly say that he would try to bring capital punishment back, but simply said that a majority of Turkish people were for it. Erdoğan thinks a bold move would shake the Kurdish issue into a new balance, but such a move could drag the whole debate back to Copenhagen Criteria, which is about democratization and human rights.

Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s EU Minister and chief negotiator - when he is not blocked from negotiations - tells Barçın Yinanç in the Hürriyet Daily News today that Turkey wants to see a number of new steps from the EU when the Irish government takes over the presidency from Greek Cyprus in January 2013. When asked about Erdoğan’s words to German Chancellor Angela Merkel last week in Berlin about becoming an EU member by 2023, Bağış said Turkey’s patience may not endure until that year, the 100th anniversary of the Turkish Republic.

It seems that both Turkey and the EU are testing each other’s patience, and that the coming year might be an important one for both.