Turkey’s EU caravan trundles on

Turkey’s EU caravan trundles on

Ankara seems happy with the EU Commission’s latest Progress Report on Turkey. EU minister Egemen Bağış criticized the Commission, of course, for announcing the release of the report in the middle of Bayram, which he considered disrespectful. 

He withheld his comments on the report, therefore, until the holiday was officially over. When they eventually came, however, Bağış’s remarks showed Ankara is not unhappy with what the Commission says in this year’s report card on Turkey. 

The report’s language is noticeable for being encouraging - and not off-putting - through praise for reformist steps that have been taken by Ankara. This is good considering there is hardly any confidence left among Turks about the EU’s good faith, the assumption being Europe will do what it can to obstruct Turkey’s path to the EU.

Needless to say, Bağış rejected the criticism in the report over the way the government handled the Gezi Park protests, as well as criticism over freedom in Turkey. Ankara is also not so happy about the Commission’s line on Cyprus, considering this to be one-sided with the usual bias. It is nevertheless clear the Erdoğan government considers the glass to be more full than empty this time. 

It is an open question whether Ankara would have been this keen if all was going well in the Middle East for Turkey, especially when one considers how touchy Prime Minister Erdoğan is about criticism over the Gezi Park protests and the state of the freedom of the press. 

This could be a sign that Ankara’s need for the EU has grown due to the turmoil in a region that was supposed to provide alternatives to Europe, at least as far as the ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) grass roots supporters are concerned. 

It is equally interesting to note Germany is preparing to lift its veto on the opening of one of the chapters in Turkey’s EU membership negotiations. It blocked the chapter on regional policy ostensibly to protest police brutality against the Gezi Park protestors.

Cynics in Turkey believe the move was a political one as the Merkel government headed for general elections. The general view was Merkel had to show her constituency; she was still against full EU membership for Turkey, and the Gezi protests provided her with the opportunity to do so. 

The elections are over and Merkel is back now. She still believes there is no room in the EU for Turkey as a full member. She clearly desires to show, however, that Berlin will not obstruct the membership talks, provided they remain “open ended” with no guarantee of membership even if they end successfully.

That is merely a formula for buying time while ensuring Turkey does not stray from Europe, as some fear she already is. Merkel is among those who believe Turkey has to remain “anchored in Europe” for strategic and economic reasons. 

This is why she has prepared to offer a special partnership in the EU to Ankara, which may fall short of full membership but maintain its links with Europe. The EU’s dilemma is while many in Europe consider Turkey to be a potential source of instability if it should become a full member; many also see that Turkey is an actual source of stability in a region that is vital for Europe. 

Whatever the street level-sentiments which feed the ultra-right in Europe may be, the question of Turkey for those who are in the position of having to make policy is not a black and white one. The same goes for Turkey for which the benefits of remaining “anchored in Europe” are also becoming apparent again due to regional developments. 

This year’s Progress Report and Berlin’s latest decision should therefore be seen as an effort to try and breathe new life into Turkey’s EU perspective so the show basically goes on. Otherwise, no one expects a massive breakthrough in this perspective any time soon.