Frustration with the EU

Frustration with the EU

The current Turkish political team has anti-European Union roots. It is an Islamist political clan different from the “nationalist view” of the late Necmettin Erbakan, who was staunchly against the EU. At the very center of the political identity of this Islamist political clan lies concrete opportunism mixed with pragmatism. Yet, despite its anti-EU roots, political heritage and Islamist world view, the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) of Turkey, thanks to the “pragmatic” nature of its character, achieved great strides in Turkey’s quest for a place for itself in the EU.

It was the AKP’s founding father, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, who had said “democracy is like a train car; we will get onboard, travel to our destination and once we reach it, get off.” So the AKP has been regarding Turkey’s European vocation. The fast-track reforms of the 2003-2005 period and the reluctant, “as if doing something” tactics of the 2007-2011 period aimed at “saving the day” have become the past. Now the prime minister is talking with the EU in frustration.

Why does the prime minister appear frustrated with the EU? Has he gotten off the EU train and onto a frustration train, knowing that most Turks are frustrated with the EU? That is, has he put into action the “opportunism” aspect of the character of his clan or is he sincere in his frustration, and indeed has been seeking a place in the Shanghai Five and is willing to pragmatically dump the EU process?

All these things being said, the deep frustration of the Turkish people with the EU is a reality that no one can ignore. Turks are sick of the EU; fed up with waiting for membership for the past 54 years. When the Ankara Agreement was signed on Sept. 12, 1963, most of the current members of the EU were even dreaming of joining the club. Most of them were behind the so-called Iron Curtain and were considered by the West – to which Ankara was firmly anchored – as enemies.

It is no secret to Turks that the EU is a club of democracies and for accession Turkish democracy, democratic norms and values, economic and social standards must be elevated to a level at par with the EU average. It is no secret either that in many areas Turkey was and is lagging behind EU levels. It was and is a gigantic farm society; agriculture still constitutes a far bigger share in its gross national product than that of “most” EU countries.

Regarding “democracy standards,” Turkey is not, of course, yet on the level of present-day EU – but has been progressing towards achieving that goal over the past decade. Right, this country has left behind China and Iran regarding the number of journalists behind bars. These are all painful realities. But, that is exactly why we need the EU process even though many of us might be undecided on membership. The EU process has been used in this country to prod changes and reforms to advance democracy. Yes, the AKP, in an opportunistic style, used the EU process in its campaign to domesticate the military and other power centers of Turkish politics. Was it wrong?

For many reasons the EU refusing to give Turkey a membership perspective and condemning Turkey to an “open-ended” process laden with mines by Greek Cypriots, French and some other Turkey opponents, must have a share in the atmosphere of the frustration with the EU in Turkey. Should we ask, “Is Turkey drifting to the East?” or “Is the West pushing Turkey away?”