Is it time to wake up from the dream?
Turkey’s long and slow journey toward European Union membership has long been denoted by many, by both proponents and skeptics, as a dream. It has turned into a nightmare many times, but has never ended. This has been an analogy even many Turkish decision-makers have employed. Maybe it is time now to wake up from the sleep, regardless of whether it is from a dream or a nightmare, to face the reality.
Croatia, which started accession negotiations on the same day with Turkey in 2005, became the 28th member of the EU on July 1, 2013. It is an important message from the EU amid financial crisis and political turmoil for the future of Europe: The EU project is still attractive. Becoming a full member is also an important achievement for Croatia, despite the fact that after several unpopular reforms, Euro-enthusiasm is predictably low: Only 44 percent of eligible voters participated in the referendum in 2012, and only 66 percent of them supported membership.
Turkey, on the other hand, has been able to open only 14 chapters in its accession process and close only one provisionally. The latest decision by the EU General Affairs Council, on June 25, about opening Chapter 22 on “Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments,” postponed the formal start of negotiations after the release of the EU Commission’s annual progress report on Turkey. Even this was only achieved after last-minute frantic diplomacy to prevent a train crash, yet again. This is clearly not a healthy relationship.
Turkey’s negotiation process slowed from 2007 onwards and came to a standstill in 2010. The unresolved Cyprus problem has been the main obstacle so far, resulting in the suspension of eight chapters as a result of Turkey’s refusal to implement the Additional Protocol that extends the Ankara Agreement. France and the Republic of Cyprus blocked additional chapters for political reasons. Former French President Nicholas Sarkozy led the opposition to Turkey’s membership to the EU, closely followed by Angela Merkel of Germany, who now, in the absence of Sarkozy, has had to take leadership on the issue. They have ably used Cyprus for a long time as an excuse.
Turkey’s changing foreign policy priorities no doubt also affected the process. Though hopes were raised with the election of François Hollande as French president in 2012 and France’s decision to lift its block on Chapter 22, it also proved hollow. The latest crisis confirmed the need for a radical reassessment and a change.
The heavy criticism from the European Parliament and Merkel after the recent disturbances in Turkey, as well as the harsh words expressed between high-level Turkish and EU officials, did not help. The minister for EU Affairs, Egemen Bağış, was sidelined during the crisis, and the combined effort of Turkey-supporters within the EU, the Foreign Ministry, representatives from business, opposition parties and civil society organizations managed to avert a complete rupture. This is obviously not sustainable.
The latest crisis demonstrates the fragility of the process and the need for mutual respect. The EU has lost its leverage on Turkey and the moral high ground. It seems that many at the political level on both sides do not respect each other anymore. This has to change quickly if Turkey wishes to maintain at least a thin line of hope for future membership.
The EU perspective provides important gains for Turkey politically, socially and economically. Turkey needs to keep the process on track against all the odds. For this, a clear EU vision/policy is needed. Defiant statements might be useful in domestic politics but are not very productive in foreign policy. Maybe, in the days ahead, Turkey should focus a little bit more on the art of diplomacy in dealing with international problems rather than the art of rhetoric.