EU crisis and Turkey’s opportunity

EU crisis and Turkey’s opportunity

With the minister responsible for the brief dismissing this year’s “Progress Report on Turkey” out of hand, and a key member of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) symbolically throwing the report into the rubbish bin, Ankara’s EU perspective is clearly in a state of stasis.

The government nevertheless needs to maintain the appearance of commitment to this perspective for a number of pragmatic reasons, not least of which concern economic factors. But unless the whole process is re-energized, it will continue to weaken, finally reaching a point where it cannot be sustained anymore.

Whatever the state of Turkish-EU ties, and of developments in Europe, it is nevertheless also becoming increasingly apparent – for a host of objective political, economic and strategic reasons – that Turkey’s importance for Europe is growing, while Turkey’s dependence on Europe continues.

Kemal Derviş, Turkey’s economic wizard under the Bülent Ecevit government, who went on to head the UNDP and is currently a deputy head of the Brookings Institution, has a suggestion to break the deadlock in Turkey EU ties, which in fact is a formula that has been mentioned at various times in the past in this column.

In a recent interview with daily Hürriyet, Derviş indicated that the euro crisis has shown the EU cannot continue on its path as it has to date. “To have a common currency, to try and maintain this without sharing sovereignty and a common financial policy – this is just not possible anymore.”

Derviş believes the euro crisis will bring deeper integration and shared sovereignty in Europe, except that this will be participated in at different levels and to different degrees by different member states. This then, according to Derviş, is exactly where Turkey’s opportunity emerges.

But it must first be underlined that what he proposes is contrary to orthodox thinking in terms of Ankara’s membership bid. Put briefly, Derviş believes this bid cannot be maintained anymore under the current format.

“Some countries like Germany, France and Italy will stay in the eurozone and go for an advanced degree of sovereignty-sharing. Others, starting with Great Britain, will not participate in this degree of integration. Therefore, there will be two kinds of memberships in the EU.”

What Derviş’s formula basically amounts to saying is that if Turkey remains committed to the EU, and the economic, social and political reforms necessary for this, the chances are that it will find a niche for itself in the EU from which it participates at different levels of integration on different topics with different groupings among member states.

This has been suggested before but when it was pronounced when the EU appeared to be standing proud, the assumption was that this was just another way of trying to trick Ankara into accepting the “privileged partnership” formula which it has rejected.

But Europe is not “standing proud” today, while Turkey has gained “critical mass” strategically and economically. This means that Derviş’s predication has a good chance of being realized with Turkey becoming a full member, but participating in the integrative process at different levels.

Some in Europe will no doubt reject even this formula for Ankara’s EU bid and cite public resistance for doing so. It is clear, however, that the public’s wishes will take a back seat to the strategic considerations of states, as has in fact been the case with the union from the start.

Anyone who doubts this should ask the people on the streets in Greece or Spain today, to cite just two examples, just how much say they have as Europe tries to work out solutions to the present crisis over their heads.

As always, Turkey’s future relations with Europe will be determined behind closed doors and based on “raison d’état,” and not by right-wing politicians playing on public fears. What Derviş is saying should not, therefore, be underestimated.