Has Turkey’s need for the EU ended?

We must truly applaud the patience of the statesmen who are involved in accession talks with Europe on the part of Turkey. The situation involving the EU talks process is not just one of blocked talks and broken promises. Through the course of our modernization, we have changed everything from our architects to our styles of dressing, and from our leadership ways to our laws.

Turkey’s quest to become a member of the EU is not separate from this historic backdrop of modernization. The power balances are all against Turkey again. Despite a 200-year adventure that saw head-to-toe Westernization take place, it is somehow still Turkey’s task to keep up with Europe, and win its heart while doing so. When it comes to the difficulties inherent in this relationship, both sides could provide all sorts of different reasons and excuses.

At the same time though, there is a very striking truth at hand that we cannot ignore: Turkey and Croatia began the accession process for full membership together, on Oct. 3, 2005. In the time that has passed, Croatia completed the process, and will in fact become a full member of the EU on July 1, 2013. As for Turkey, it has been able to open 13 of the 35 different accession chapters in total. And so EU membership remains some sort of mirage for us.

Turkish leaders find it hard to hold in their anger against Europe in the face of this unjust tableau. Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an talks of quitting the EU talks and becoming instead a member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, speaking at a Justice and Development Party (AK Party) Manisa meeting, unleashes scathing views of the EU. These reactions we are hearing are not just a reflection of anger over perceived unfairness but also a sign of Turkey’s economically stable position. While Europe faces an enormous economic crisis, it is the first time in a long time that Turkey is comparatively much better off.

In his Manisa talk, Davuto?lu noted: “If our path towards the EU clears, we will continue forward with our strategic goals; if not, they will go their way and we ours. We will then see in which direction everyone has gone.”


There is really no need for debate about the economic blow the EU has sustained, nor about whether its stance towards Turkey is unfair. Similarly, there can be no doubt that Turkey’s own self-confidence has risen in light of its most recent economic performance. At the same time, though, contrary to the way in which the topic is treated by the public, EU membership is not some favor which Turkey will pass up on if needed. In fact, EU membership is the natural outcome of two engagements entered into with Europe by Turkey thus far. The first is the legal framework in place since 1963 that carries the signatures of EU official organs, and is within the perspective of full membership. The second is the Customs Union, entered into on the perspective of full membership. If there is to be no full membership for Turkey, then it either needs to exit from the Customs Union or hold new talks on its accession to that group. To wit, while we are not present at the table when the EU makes trade agreements with third countries, we are still forced to comply with decisions made by the Customs Union. It is from this angle that the free trade agreement talks started between the EU and the US are a serious risk for Turkey.

Perhaps an even more important factor in terms of making the EU still important for Turkey is that it provides Turkey with a roadmap towards the construction of a new Turkey. The EU roadmap that guides everything from the environment to civilian-military relations is not only an important reference guide but also a very serious framework for compromise for various polarized social factions. Just think about how the AK Party is single-handedly trying to prepare a new constitution. If the EU process carries on, and the EU and the European Council find the new constitutional text in harmony with democratic standards, the whole problem of legitimacy could be transcended. The EU may be the target of some fierce criticism from Turkey, but not without recalling that the Ankara Criteria have really not yet fully matured.

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