Reviving Turkey's EU Dream
Turkey’s long-standing dream of European Union membership is still alive today, though only barely, despite blows from inside the country and from several EU members.
Domestic and international developments in the last few years have prevented refocusing on the issue: The last chapter for negotiations was opened at the end of October 2013 on “Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments,” followed by a speedy return to standby mode in the process. It is, of course, futile to expect progress without a change in the political determinants of the relationship. But the time may be ripe again to look into the membership issue more closely.
According to the roadmap of Turkey's 62nd government, led by Ahmet Davutoğlu, EU membership has been prioritized as the top agenda of the country’s foreign policy. In parallel with this, the newly appointed Minister for EU Affairs Volkan Bozkır announced a new strategy on Sept. 18 to demonstrate Turkey’s commitment for membership and to eliminate barriers in the process. In addition, the appointment of his predecessor, Mevlut Çavuşoğlu, as the country's new foreign minister was interpreted as a sign of a slight change of heart regarding the EU.
The new EU strategy consists of three parts (political reforms, socioeconomic transformation and communication strategy), and will become operational after the adoption of the National Action Plan and EU Communication Strategy in November. The new strategy will be implemented in two periods, the first lasting until 2015 and the second covering 2015-2019.
These cosmetic arrangements might be fine on paper, but the driving forces of connection between Turkey and the EU are diverse and very fragile. On top of the agenda is the raging turmoil in Turkey’s immediate neighborhood and the negative impact of this on its domestic politics, as well as a possible impact on EU territory. Turkey’s geographic location has always been a double-edged sword in membership talks, and it seems that it is gravitating toward the negative at the moment. Turkey’s internal dynamics are also moving against the core values of the Union, raising doubts about the suitability of Turkey for membership.
On the EU side, since the Euro crisis erupted in 2008, the member states have been preoccupied with the displeasure of their citizens, reflected in the rise of anti-establishment parties at the EU level. Although mainstream parties still dominate the agenda for the time being, demands for change are very clear. In addition, some members, particularly the U.K., have even been questioning their status within the Union. Therefore, the EU still needs time to sort out its raison d’être, and as this goes on enlargement has naturally been relegated to a secondary place. Thus, the newly appointed European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker has stressed that “no further enlargement will take place over the next five years.”
The 2014 progress report on Turkey's EU accession bid, adopted by the European Commission yesterday, clearly revealed the concerns in the EU. Turkey's early impressions of the report are highly suspicious, as the government has not trusted the objectivity of the Union for some time. That is why Turkey released its own self-written "progress report" last year. The lack of confidence on both sides clearly affects the relationship negatively.
Turkey’s attention over the next nine months will be occupied with the forthcoming parliamentary elections, as well as the spillover effects of the chaos in the Middle East. However, these should be seen as reasons to revive the EU connection, not as distractions. Since repeated surveys recently conducted in Turkey have, despite everything, demonstrated popular support for membership of around 50 percent, it may be high time that the government started trusting its citizens' instincts on this.