A report with no effect
The EU Commission has released one of its hardest-hitting Progress Reports on Turkey to date, outlining a slew of serious deficiencies in the judicial, social and political domains. No one who lives in this country and is aware of what is going on needs such a report, of course, to know the serious shortcomings in these areas.
Those who waited for these reports with anticipation in the past did so mainly because of the EU’s soft power which acted as a locomotive for reform. This year’s Progress Report, however, even though it is the one of the most critical to date, has hardly created a stir among Turks.
The government, of course, still maintains that that Ankara remains committed to its “EU perspective.” But just how serious it is when it says this was more than apparent during the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) recent general congress in Ankara.
It was noticeable that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan did not mention a word about the EU in his address to delegates when he was effectively charting the course for Turkey for the next decade.
The point is that EU has lost its soft power over Turkey and its Progress Reports are considered inconsequential, as demonstrated in the dismissive response to this year’s report by EU Minister Egemen Bağış.
With the negative positions of some key EU members toward Turkey’s membership, along with the European position on Cyprus, and rising anti-Islamic sentiments in Europe, Erdoğan has enough ammunition to turn the public against the EU should he choose to.
All of this makes President Abdullah Gül’s heartfelt exhortations to Turkey not to abandon its EU drive something of a cry in the wilderness. The mood in Turkey on the EU could begin to change if France decided to lift its veto on key chapters in the membership negotiations whose opening it feels would be going too far.
In addition to this, if the EU was seen to be acting more equitably on Cyprus, and more justly in its visa policy, especially toward professionals who are clearly not going to flood Europe with illegal labor, Turks might be enthused again about the EU. But given crises in Europe, this is clearly not going to happen anytime soon, if at all.
It is true that the EU helped Turkey enact critical reforms in the past, especially when Ankara’s path to full membership was not blocked as it is today. The “stick” worked then because the “carrot” was tangible. That is hardly the case anymore.
In the meantime, the inner dynamics of Turkey have taken on such a frenzied turn, that it is this country’s own social and political realities that are now driving change, or the lack thereof.
It was nevertheless interesting to note Stefan Füle, the EU’s commissioner for enlargement, underlining that despite this negative environment, Turkey remains a country of vital and increasing importance for Europe.
Clearly Turkey still has to do much to attain European standards, as this year’s Progress Report shows. No one is expecting a free meal for Ankara. The main onus for reform therefore remains on this country, as always.
But if Turkey is indeed the strategic partner that Füle, and other respectable influential Europeans are maintaining it is, then these Europeans have to also consider what Europe’s share has been in turning Turks off the EU.
The bottom line here is that it is very unlikely, without a tangible carrot, that this year’s EU Progress Report on Turkey will have any effect on the government or the Turkish public. It seems also inevitable in such an environment that the EU perspective should have lost its meaning for many Turks, despite efforts to reanimate ties with “Positive Agenda” initiatives.