The real reason why Turkey’s EU membership is ‘unthinkable’

The real reason why Turkey’s EU membership is ‘unthinkable’

Today Britons will be holding one of the most crucial referenda the EU has seen since its foundation. Regardless of whether the United Kingdom stays or leaves the EU, this referendum will affect Turkey, which ostensibly still aims to become a member of the union. Either way, the prospects for its membership look worse than ever. 

Turkish-EU ties remain tenuous. The momentary surge of optimism following the conclusion of a migrant agreement in March, when ousted Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu over-optimistically hailed “the new era in ties,” is gone.

The tone of the language between Ankara and Brussels is sour again, to say the least. In line with our prediction at the time, the migrant agreement appears to have done more harm than good in this regard.

Looking at how some key European leaders have pandered to an increasingly undemocratic Turkish government in order to secure this deal – even promising visa-free travel for Turks in Europe – many across the EU are afraid now that Ankara will be admitted as a member even if it has not fulfilled the requirements.

The less than sensible manner in which Turkey was used as a scarecrow by the Brexit campaign shows this clearly. Never one to waste an opportunity to hit out at Turkey, former French President Nicolas Sarkozy has also resurfaced. Jumping on the bandwagon with a tweet, he repeated his well-known view the other day that “Turkey’s EU membership is unthinkable.”

Given the manner in which Turkey is regressing democratically under the rule of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, though, Sarkozy needn’t have tweeted this at all. If Turkey’s EU membership is “unthinkable” today, Turkey is as much to blame as anyone else.

The correct way for Ankara to respond to the no-to-Turkey campaign would have been to step on the gas in order to speed up the reform process at the beginning, democratizing and modernizing Turkey instead of wasting time on pointless accusations aimed at Europe.

The appeal of a Turkey that has genuinely fulfilled the Copenhagen Criteria, not just in appearance or on paper, and that has a growing and thriving economy, would have been much harder to reject on the basis of cultural or religious considerations which amount to thinly veiled racism.

So why did Ankara not do this? The answer is clearer than ever today. It did not do this simply because neither Erdoğan nor the Justice and Development Party (AKP) want this membership. Their statements which indicate that Turkey remains committed to this target are simply dishonest. 

More precisely, they want this membership to be on their subjective terms, not on the basis of the EU’s objective rules. They consider these rules, especially with regards to pluralistic democracy, to be unsuitable for the Turkey they hope to create based on their Islamist outlook. 

Erdoğan warned recently that if the EU keeps insisting on demanding things from Turkey it will not do, like change its anti-terrorism law so this can’t be used willy-nilly against journalists, academics or just ordinary citizens who merely express their views, then Turkey would go its own way.

That, however, is what is happening already. The way things are developing in this country, Erdoğan’s remarks about Turkey going its own way looks more like an expression of a desire, rather than a meaningful warning to the EU. 

Erdoğan knows that if Turkey adopts the EU’s democratic standards this will curb his powers, making it more difficult for him to realize his vision for the country, which is anything but European.

This is why Sarkozy need not have come out with a Tweet that reflects his racist attitude toward Turkey once again. All he had to do was to leave it to Erdoğan, under whose leadership Turkey’s EU membership does indeed appear unthinkable.