From dream to reality: Turkey-EU relations in the 5th year of EU accession negotiations

Egemen Bagis
“We stood our ground and we succeeded…”
“We stood tall and we succeeded…”
“Atatürk, rest in peace…”
“Turkey’s path to the EU goes on…”
“Europe step by step … Civilizations met, a new era started…”

 

 

The realization of Turkey’s half-century-long EU dream and the most concrete expression of this, the start of EU accession negotiations on Oct. 3, 2005, was publicized in Turkey’s most important newspapers with these headlines.
Even the expressions we saw in the headlines on the front pages of newspapers in Turkey on the morning of Oct. 4, 2005 were a summary of this half-century-long process. Some were infusing society with fear with their usual marginal approach and psychology of defeatism, adopting an attitude of underestimating their own country. Others were cautious about the beginning of negotiations due to the effects of past disillusionments.

While some other newspapers were presenting Turkey-EU relations from the perspective of the meeting of civilizations, a large number were drawing attention to Turkey’s determination to open negotiations. Turkey had in fact expended significant effort to open accession negotiations. The Brussels summit of Dec. 17, 2004, was actually one of the most important milestones of the process that formally began on Oct. 3, 2005. The European Council took the decision at this summit to open accession negotiations with Turkey on Oct. 3, 2005.
The headlines such as “We held our ground and we succeeded” or “We stood tall and we succeeded” were the expression of our determination in the process from December to October. I can say with confidence, as someone who has participated in all open and closed meetings as Advisor to the Prime Minister, that Dec. 17 and Oct. 3 are dates of great significance in our long-standing traditions of state and diplomacy. At a point when negotiations were blocked and a half-century process could have ended in disillusionment, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s statement “I shall determine my own destiny, not someone else” changed all European leaders’ view of Turkey and made Europe ask itself “What are we doing?”
Although it was concluded that Turkey fulfilled the Copenhagen criteria to open negotiations at the Brussels summit, the expectations of Turkey regarding Cyprus had not been met and a date for the negotiations to begin was not set initially. After hearing the decision of the council, our prime minister’s “farewell” to the Dutch minister of foreign affairs and his order to “get ready to fly back to Ankara” were the last words of the Turkish delegation at the summit. Following the last words of our prime minister, for the first time all the leaders participating in the summit were confronted with the fear of losing Turkey and you could clearly observe a sense of panic on their faces.
Frankly speaking, Turkey’s historic journey was at the end and this was a situation that upset us all. But, to be against injustices and hypocritical behavior and to react against promises that were not kept was the kind of manner that best fit Turkey and the Turkish government. Our prime minister acted appropriately. Apart from Turkey’s discontent, the EU was also not pleased to be confronted with the risk of losing Turkey, which is pragmatically important but is also a symbol in Europe’s historical process. In fact, the council realized its wrong-doing and rearranged its decision in such a way that would take into account our concerns. Thus, the Brussels summit resulted in “success,” according to Prime Minister Erdo?an.
Jan Peter Balkanende, the prime minister of Holland holding the EU presidency evaluated the summit with these words: “It was not an easy process but we took a historic decision for the sake for 21st century Europe.” Balkanende’s words were crucial in that they reflected how important Turkey was for the European Union. Our prime minister’s explanation after the summit was that “we harvested the yields of the last 41 years,” summarizing both the challenging process that we went through in the summit and the history of Turkey’s relations with the EU, which is full of ups and downs.  The enthusiasm we witnessed upon our return to Ankara after the summit erased all the tension and exhaustion from our time in Brussels. K?z?lay Square, which is remembered for the famous student protest meeting, prompted with the motto “555K” before the 1960 military coup, this time hosted the Turkish nation’s enthusiasm of democracy and freedom. Indeed, this enthusiasm later on enabled Turkey’s journey to contemporary civilization to reach an irreversible stage on Oct. 3, 2005.
It was not easy to begin accession negotiations just as it was not easy to receive a firm date. Turkey had to fight for the official beginning of the negotiations. We were able to begin the negotiations due to our determination and sincerity to this cause, as well as our diplomatic maneuvering capability. This was an unprecedented example in the history of diplomacy.
Today, on the fifth anniversary of the Oct. 3, 2005, I believe that it would be useful to ask this question: “Why is it important to make such efforts for EU membership and why is it so important to become a member of the EU?”
As a matter fact, the summary of all the possible answers to this question is the enthusiasm which was demonstrated in K?z?lay square in Ankara following the Dec. 17, 2004 Brussels summit. The overt enthusiasm on that day demonstrated that Turkey is a genuine Western and modern country. Our nation harnessed the excitement emanating from Turkey’s will to become a more democratic, prosperous and freer country into a wave of acclamation.
We must never ignore this reality when we undertake an assessment of the EU accession process: EU standards are now the level of contemporary civilizations, which Atatürk intended for us to achieve. As a consequence, full membership in the EU has been a state policy for Turkey since 1959 and also a shared goal among all Turkish governments. Since the foundation of the idea of the European Union, Turkey was involved in this process and it will continue to be in the future. Turkey’s historic journey and its set of values point us toward the EU.
One must not forget that membership in the EU is a common hope and aspiration of the Turkish nation just as it is a strategic goal of the Turkish state. That same aspiration is why our government was able to turn this half-century-long EU journey into a success story, acquiring for Turkey the status of a negotiating country.
As the AK Party, our biggest achievement has been the revitalization of this ambition and the realization of the EU reforms, together with the support of our nation. Moreover, the AK Party’s rare and remarkable success in two referendums and four successive elections it entered after its founding, not only protects Turkey’s stability and confidence, but also gives very important messages regarding the EU accession process.
The AK Party, which has demonstrated the strongest will for Turkey’s EU membership and declared Turkey’s accession among its platform’s priorities, has obtained the confidence of the nation. This also reflects the nation’s support for the EU process. At the same time, at the end of the accession process, each country, without any exceptions, increased its democratic standards, reached higher standards of welfare and development and its language, culture and flag became a part of the EU. Within this framework, it is no coincidence that Turkey has become a more democratic, prosperous and reputable country after the beginning of accession negotiations. Today in Turkey, there is not an issue or topic that is cannot be discussed. Everybody in Turkey can freely discuss his ideas and everyone is free to express their opinions, beliefs and lifestyles. With this in mind we can see that the EU accession process is beneficial to Turkey. Our statements emphasizing the importance of the process rather than membership itself and our gains from this process reflect this understanding.
As of today, at the fifth anniversary of the opening of negotiations, 13 chapters were opened to negotiations, of which one has been closed. While we are far from the point that we aspire to be, the negotiations are on the right track. However, Turkey’s gains from the EU accession process are more important than the number of chapters opened to negotiations:
Our National Union and Brotherhood Project may not correspond to the negotiation chapters, but for Turkey, this project is as important as opening all the chapters.
The approval of the constitutional amendment package, which comprises 26 articles in the Sept. 12 referendum, is as important as opening all 26 chapters at the same time.
While in some European countries the Roma are being deported, the fact that Turkey has reached the position of apologizing to its Roma citizens is more significant than opening a chapter.
It is more reasonable to discuss the marketing of Turkish brand products and attaining the standards of Europe in the fields of science, technology and education rather than the chapters that have been opened.
There is no change in our determination and sincerity.
Just as we started negotiations five years ago, today, we have the same determination to conclude the negotiations with EU. From now on, we are stronger in the negotiation process. However, we are aware that we have gained this strength from our determination on the path to EU accession. We are now discussing the date of membership, not the process. We are now in the position of discussing total freedom of movement, not derogations.
While the world and global balances change, the EU is confronting significant challenges and Turkey is taking its place among the rising powers of the 21st century, a new understanding is essential. The people in the EU who regard Turkey with suspicion and those in Turkey who have tried to hinder negotiations with the European Union should reconsider and initiate a fresh start in order to advance the process.
As the government, we will do our best, as always, to initiate this new start and change of paradigm through dialogue and consensus. On the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the negotiations, it is significant to quote Prime Minister Erdo?an from his statement at the inauguration of the ?stanbul office of the Secretariat General for EU Affairs:
“Turkey is no longer the sick man of the 19th century, it is the dynamic actor of the 21st century.
*Egemen Ba??? is Turkey’s chief EU negotiator.


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