Turkey’s EU strategy: Promising, but...

Turkey’s EU strategy: Promising, but...

A week ago, the Turkish Ministry for EU Affairs issued an interesting and basically positive document, “Turkey’s European Union Strategy,” as a preliminary design of a new approach to EU membership. As we read in the document, the EU strategy “will become operational upon adoption of the National Action Plan for EU Accession and European Union Communication Strategy, in November 2014.” It is worth mentioning that in the meantime the European Commission will deliver the 2014 Progress Report, assessing the state of the situation. We will see whether or not the Turkish EU Ministry’s document will be taken into account in the report, as was the case last year with the Democratization Package. Probably the answer is yes, and in this case the painting will show brighter colors.

The document emerges a quite positive vision of the accession process. In its first lines, the accession process is describes as “the most important modernization project, after the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey.” In the following pages, EU membership is seen as a process “accelerating the political reform dynamics that have served to further improve the living standards of citizens and deepen the rule of law and democratization.” In diplomatic language, (provided that my reading is correct), the document also makes reference to the needs that emerged after the Soma mine tragedy: “The occupational accidents that recently took place in Turkey point to the importance of implementation, inspection and mentality in alignment with the EU legislation.”

It is clear that the main purpose of the document is to reassure Brussels and the governments of member states about Turkey’s willingness to speed up the reforms that the adoption of the acquis communautaire calls for. The eye also points to the next Commission, headed by Jean-Claude Juncker. The fact that, as Barçin Yinanç recently pointed out on these pages (Sept. 18), the new Commission’s president ignored Turkey in the instruction letter to his commissioners, probably sounded a warning bell for the EU Ministry.

Beyond the willingness to stress the transformative effect of the accession process, it is clear that the effort to present - in the most shimmering possible form - the (surely undeniable) excellent performance of Turkey over the past 12 years has led to some unnecessary exaggerations. For instance, we read, “In the past 12 years, Turkey has tripled its national income.” But it is actually nominal GDP, which doesn’t take inflation into account, that in 2013 was 2.5 higher than in 2002. The best indicator of economic performance is per capita GDP, expressed in purchasing power standards. According to this, Turkey’s growth since 2002 is around 53 percent: An outstanding result, unmatched by any other EU member or candidate state. There is no need to amplify achievements in order to highlight the good trend of Turkey’s economy!

A relevant part of the document deals with the EU communication strategy in its domestic and international dimension. The domestic dimension aims to convince the public that the modernization and democratization project embedded in the accession process will ultimately improve their lives, in its economic, civil and political aspects. More welfare, more freedom, more respect of individual rights is linked to membership.

The international dimension is aimed at member states, in order to improve the current perception of Turkey. “Turkey has the highest number of applications for the EU education and youth program, the Erasmus+” we read. Indeed, Erasmus is an excellent opportunity for Turkish students to meet their colleagues in EU countries, to explain Turkish culture, economy, politics, its motivations to be an EU member, and so on. Students should, however, be trained for this. A specific project to train outgoing Erasmus students as sort of ambassadors of Turkey appointed to address the youth of Europe would be an essential tool of the communication strategy.

In conclusion, the Turkish EU Ministry has produced a beautiful document. It is so beautiful that it may give rise to suspicions, (there are always people who think the worst), that it has been put together just to please Brussels. In any case, the facts will surely follow, and this document is a promising initial approach.

*Angelo Santagostino is the Jean Monnet Professor at Yıldırım Beyazıt University in Ankara.