From a vision to pipe-dream: Turkey’s EU connection

From a vision to pipe-dream: Turkey’s EU connection

The EU entered 2013 with several convoluted economic and social problems, exacerbated by the 2008 financial crisis. The long-discussed multi-speed Europe is now being fully realized. U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron triggered the latest discussions in earnest with his proposal to renegotiate Britain’s position within the EU and to put his country’s membership of the EU to a referendum. While the financial crisis is forcing Europe, with German pressure behind it, toward tighter integration and further empowerment of the Euro in order to avoid national shortcomings in future financial crises, the U.K. - always skeptical of deeper integration - even moved to retract judicial and policing powers that it had earlier allotted to the EU. However, the real threat for the EU, as George Friedman highlighted, is the still rising unemployment rate and its social effects across the European continent.

With this background in mind, looking at Turkey’s current position in its accession negotiations with the EU necessitates a painful assessment. Although the passing of the rotating EU Presidency to Ireland on Jan. 1 somewhat raised hopes for negotiations, the reality is in fact not so bright. While the “Positive Agenda” that intended to avoid a car crash during the presidency of the Republic of Cyprus was agreed on in May 2012, Turkey put its political relations with the EU on hold when Cyprus took the presidency in July 1, 2012. In reality, there was actually nothing to put on hold by then. The real suspension actually goes back to June 30, 2010, when the last chapter on “Food Safety, Veterinary and Phytosanitary Policy” was opened. For good measure, Turkey has so far been allowed to provisionally close only one of the 13 opened chapters. Though the Irish presidency is trumpeted to bring back some of the lost momentum to relations, these hopes will be in vain without real change in preventive factors.

The Cyprus problem is still the main obstacle. Eight chapters are suspended due to Turkey’s refusal to implement the Additional Protocol. The EU shares this burden as it did not keep its promise regarding direct trade with the Turkish Cypriots. However, the real obstacle is the use of the Cyprus issue by some members - particularly Germany and France - to block Turkey’s membership. This is the soft, or hard, underbelly.

Beyond the Additional Protocol, France and the Republic of Cyprus are blocking the opening of another 11 chapters due to political reasons - although there are no related technical benchmarks - leaving only three chapters for negotiation. Anyway, Germany and France have already called for a “privileged partnership,” rather than full membership, for Turkey. Despite the fact that François Hollande’s election to the French Presidency in May 2012 had raised hopes for a change in France’s stance, nothing substantial has happened so far. We are now waiting for his possible visit to Turkey in February or March to see a move.

There are also changes emanating from Turkey. The reform process has undoubtedly slowed down, if not halted altogether, since 2007, and the complicated international agenda has moved Turkey’s attention away from the EU. While the EU has been struggling with its financial problems, Turkey has started to engage Middle Eastern countries - to the detriment of its European connection. The European connection has been damaged so much that Turkey’s EU Minister Egemen Bağış released Turkey’s own self-penned progress report last week, after criticizing the latest Commission report on Turkey as “subjective, biased, unwarranted and bigoted.”

Is there hope after all for Turkey’s EU connection? Although one needs to hope, I very much doubt it. Given Turkey’s current predisposition in its international relations and the EU’s ongoing troubles, there is at present no EU vision for Turkey. The EU connection will for now remain a dream for another day.