The end of the line for Turkey and the EU

The end of the line for Turkey and the EU

The European Union was never sincere with Turkey. It is still a mystery why it recognized Turkey as a candidate for full membership in 1999, and endorsed the start of negotiations in 2005. It probably believed Turkey could never fulfill the requirements and so there was no risk of appeasing it.

It did not take long though for Europe to show its true face, mostly thanks to Angela Merkel in Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy in France. Worried that Ankara might somehow fulfill the requirements, Merkel produced the “open-ended negotiations” formula. 

She said she would allow membership talks to continue in the spirit of “pacta sunt servanda” but could not promise Turkey that membership was guaranteed even if it fulfilled all the requirements. 

What Merkel wanted was a “special partnership,” which would not amount to full membership, but nevertheless have some perks for Turkey. 

Sarkozy was not even that “generous.” As far as he was (is) concerned, there was no place for Turkey in the EU because it is not a European country. Out of pragmatic considerations, he would allow for negotiations between Turkey and the EU to continue as long as the issues being negotiated did not pertain to full membership. 

Europe’s insincerity was exemplified once again recently by Britain’s Boris Johnson. Having successfully used the topic of Turkey’s membership as a scarecrow in order to push for Brexit, he later came out, after Brexit was secured, to say Britain supported Ankara’s EU bid.

It’s a wonder that Turkish governments put up with all this for so long. But here we come to the other side of the coin. Turkey was never sincere about its membership bid either. A superficially Westernized Turkish elite only desired this as they would membership in an exclusive club.

When it came to fulfilling the requirements for membership, though, Ankara always dragged its feet, especially with regards to issues relating to democracy, human rights and minority rights. 

Ankara’s argument for doing this was always the same. Turkey is a special case facing special threats and Europe had to understand this and not force things on it that it was incapable of doing. In other words Turkey always wanted membership on its own terms, not on the basis of EU criteria. 

The fact that it is accused today of moving toward authoritarianism, and that we in this country are even debating a return of the death penalty, is enough to underscore just how sincere Ankara is about EU membership. 

Given this overall picture, it is easy for Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu to mount his high horse and blast the EU for its hypocrisy – which no one denies exists. But what about the hypocrisy and insincerity Turkey demonstrated after it signed the Ankara Agreement in 1963, which was meant to result in full membership? 
Had those who profess commitment to the progressive aspirations of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of our modern republic, been sincere, Turkey would not have squandered historic opportunities for integration with Europe, and the state of our ties with the EU today would not be what they are.

This is why President Recep Erdoğan’s call for a referendum to determine if Turkey will retain its EU membership perspective is not a bad idea, regardless of whether he is sincere about this call or not. 

What such a referendum would produce is obvious at this stage. Turks, egged on by Erdoğan, would say “end it once and for all.” But at least the truth would be out and the pretense ended. 

The simple fact is that the EU is not prepared today to admit a predominantly Muslim country, even if that country fulfills all the requirements, while an increasingly Islamized Turkey is not prepared to meet the democratic criteria for membership. 

If Turkey and Europe pay a price for “Trexit” in ways they did not expect to, they will have to share the blame. If there is no price to be paid, then we will move to the next stage, whatever that is. At least Turkey’s ties with Europe will be placed on a more honest footing.