The way to unblock Turkey’s EU path

The way to unblock Turkey’s EU path

Manuel Barroso, the outgoing head of the European Commission, remains hopeful about Turkish-EU ties even though very little progress has been made in recent years in Ankara’s bid for membership.

Judging by his remarks to Cansu Çamlıbel in Sept. 29’s Hürriyet Daily News, Barroso also believes in the growing importance of these ties.

“Take any major challenge we are faced with – from the economic crisis and energy secu-rity to migration policy or terrorism – Turkey appears as a strategic partner for the Europe-an Union and as part of the solution,” Barroso said when asked if he was worried that the EU might lose Turkey.

“But to be able to tackle all these challenges, Turkey strongly needs the EU, too! We are bound to succeed together,” Barroso added, going on to emphasize that he was not even remotely thinking about losing Turkey. “Fortunately, given the strength of our joint inter-ests, I don’t see such a scenario coming up!”

Jean-Claude Juncker, who is replacing Barroso as head of the European Commission, is known to be less than keen on Turkey’s EU accession. But there are truths in his predeces-sor’s words which he, too, will have to consider.

Developments in this part of the world – from Ukraine to the Middle East – are of vital in-terest to Europe also and are forcing Turkey and EU members into closer cooperation in the areas listed by Barroso. Juncker will have no choice but to factor this in no matter what he feels about Turkey. The EU he leads is, after all, no longer the EU of former happy days.

Meanwhile, the government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu has announced that it will do its utmost to try and re-energize dormant Turkish-EU ties with regards to Ankara’s membership bid. This sounds good but doing so will require a return to the reformist path, especially with regards to democracy and human rights.

The prospects for that, however, do not look good at present. According to a release by Human Rights Watch on Sept. 29, Turkey is undergoing a “worrying rollback” on human rights under the rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, which involves serious curbs on judicial independence and media freedom.

Barroso also expressed concern in this area during his interview with Çamlıbel and point-ed specifically to the sudden and unexpected recent change to the Internet law, which he noted was adopted without any consultation with concerned stakeholders.

“Accession negotiations are not just a technical process of gradual alignment and en-forcement of legislation. Negotiations are based on shared values and a common under-standing of the rule of law, democracy and human rights.”

These words of Barroso’s represents the crux of the matter if the Ankara is genuinely in-terested in re-energizing it ties with the EU with a view to speeding up its accession process. That accession – whichever form it takes eventually – will remain a remote possibility if Turkey cannot live up to democratic standards.

On the other hand, the growing mutual strategic interests Turkey and the EU share, and the need they may feel for each other in this regard do not provide the right catalyst for Ankara’s membership bid. Saudi Arabia and Egypt are not EU candidate countries but have a growing strategic importance for Europe, and vice versa, given what is happening in their region.

Put another way, if Ankara is relying on the strategic dimension to unblock its EU path, it is seriously mistaken. The way back to that path is through enhanced democracy and hu-man rights, and Turkey is not progressing, but clearly regressing in those areas.