Turkey’s quest for a place?

Turkey’s quest for a place?

High-level visits play an important role in international relations. When a head of state or a prime minister pays an official visit to a country, it is believed to be a significant facilitator for giving new momentum to bilateral relations.

President Erdoğan plans several visits this month. He has started with India. He will visit Russia, then China and then the United States. Finally, he will participate in the NATO Summit meeting in Brussels toward the end of May.

It is no secret that Turkey’s foreign relations are going through a very delicate period. These relations are particularly in jeopardy with Western allies due to the referendum on the Turkish constitution. Ankara was furious after the OSCE/ODIHR observation mission gave an initial assessment about the reported irregularities during the referendum.

The government also failed to show restraint and anger control regarding the decision of the Parliamentary Assembly of Council of Europe (PACE) to relaunch monitoring of Turkey. Ankara’s record on compliance with the universal standards of the rule of law, democratic rights and freedoms, freedom of expression (including freedom of the media), and several other values that Turkey has committed itself to abide by when it became a member of many of these institutions, are now in question.

There was a serious concern in Turkey that the PACE decision would also affect the European Parliament and lead to a further negative development in Turkey’s relations with the European Union, particularly with the accession negotiations. Such concerns resulted in calls for a referendum on those issues, obviously in an effort to preempt such a development and argue that it is Turkey who decides on the future of its relations with the European institutions and organizations.

This is certainly true. Turkey has taken the initiative to apply for membership in all those European organizations with its own decision. In most of those examples, Turkey is even the founding state of those organizations, such as Council of Europe, OECD and the OSCE. Turkey’s deliberate and independent choice to become a part of the European institutions and organizations is a result of its unilateral decision to be part of the contemporary world.

This journey started as early as 1946, when Turkey made its choice to introduce multi-party system in order to strengthen its experience in parliamentary democracy. Membership of NATO is therefore not only a matter of security, but also of becoming part of the pluralist democratic world.

So is the country’s journey to become a member of the European Union. European countries are quite aware of this choice, and therefore they should also know that they cannot reject this voluntariness by Turkey to become a member of their wider family.

It is important, however, for the EU to underline the requirements of becoming such a member. In fact, High Representative of EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini made it crystal clear during the Gymnich meeting in Malta last week that the EU still wants to see Turkey as a member. For that, said Mogherini, Turkey has to provide clear signals on whether it intends to meet the entrance criteria in such areas as human rights and the rule of law, which are basic tenets of a European democracy. 

The EU shows restraint, despite the fact that Turkey is always ready to lose its temper with Brussels. The Malta meeting of EU foreign ministers proved the determination of the EU to not change its vision about Turkey, with Mogherini emphasizing once again that Turkey is considered a strategic partner for the EU.

The accession process is ongoing. Formally, it is neither suspended nor ended. But ultimately there is no work on opening any new negotiating chapter. Perhaps this is only normal because both Turkey and the EU need to reflect on the future course of their relations.

The EU has made it clear that it expects to see the same determination for membership from Turkey. If the ball is on Turkey’s court, caution should prevail. Now is not time to speak of reinstating the death penalty, which is outlawed in every EU nation as a key moral benchmark. Neither is it time to talk about taking the continuation of accession negotiations to a referendum in Turkey.

High-level visits to many countries must happen. Turkey’s relations with the world will develop and Turkey will further integrate with distant geographies. Those visits, however, should not be interpreted as an effort to find a new place in the world, as Turkey does not need to seek such a place for itself. It is anchored to the West; let us keep it that way.