Erdoğan to Brussels, finally!

Erdoğan to Brussels, finally!

Good news for those who still did not give up on Turkey’s open-ended European Union accession talk process: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan will be travelling to Brussels in the second week of the new year to attend the January summit of the European Council. Of course the blame for Turkey’s absence at the EU summits for the past three years cannot be placed on Erdoğan, as he was not invited anyhow.

Turkey’s road to the EU was believed to be a long and winding one when in 1987 then-Foreign Minister Ali Bozer presented the set of Turkish applications for membership. Probably, when the Ankara accord was signed back in September 1963 no one ever thought Turkey’s accession would not be achieved even 50 years later and that Turks would still not be able to make visa-free trips to European countries.

Consecutive military coups are often blamed for the “delay” in Turkish accession, as if the Ankara agreement was not signed immediately after the 1960 coup while Turkey was not yet fully returned to civilian governance. It is a fact; however, that changing global political climate did indeed play a role all through this problematic voyage of Turkey. Changes in the climate sometimes helped Turkey receive offers to make a shortcut entry like the 1975 one rejected by then-Premier Bülent Ecevit on the grounds that Turkish industry was not yet ready for accession and whatever industry the country had would be swallowed by the advanced European industry. And sometimes, the end of the Cold War, the shift in threat perception and such conditions erased Turkey’s perceived importance, relegating it to a country condemned to stay in the waiting room for ever.

Not necessarily because of the coups, but also the downs and ups and yet downs in human rights, freedoms and such records of the country even during civilian or semi-civilian administrations forced many Turks to seek political asylum abroad, triggering Germany clamping visa requirement on Turkish nationals… coupled with Turkey’s psychological problems regarding refugees coming from the east – a condition still continuing and as a consequence of which the Syrians who fled to Turkey are just given the “guest” status – made the EU visa wall taller and stronger. Now, there is some good news that Turkey will finally sign the relevant protocol and clear the way to a visa-free period for Turks travelling to and in Europe.

Erdoğan, requesting to attend the EU Council, EU’s acceptance of that request and fixing the trilateral summit of Erdoğan with European Union Council President Herman Van Rompuy, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barossa and European Parliament head Martin Schultz may usher a new era in Turkey-EU relations. Particularly if hopes for a Cyprus accord by the end of March comes true – very unlikely, but anyhow – then there will be a new and promising climate for Turkey’s EU accession.

Even if protocol regarding refugees was signed and waiving visa requirement arrangements can be prepared, it will probably take at least three years for Turks to have visa-free travel to Europe. But, no one can prejudge how fast the progress might be if the political atmosphere is rapidly improved with Turkey undertaking faster steps to achieve democratization reforms, success in Kurdish resolution, and perhaps either a bi-zonal and bi-communal federation or a two-state resolution gets rid of the perennial Cyprus headache…

Anyhow, for a change Erdoğan will be in Brussels rather than Doha… That’s a good development.