William Chislett (Fundación Real Instituto Elcano)
Any country that aspires to become an EU member has to harmonize its legal system with that of the European Union. This year’s 3 October marked ten years since the day Turkey’s accession talks were formally initiated and although part of its legal system has been successfully reformed, Ankara’s efforts to fulfill criteria set by the EU in major areas have, however, been deadlocked. While Turkey has been trying to take part in the European integration process since the 1960s, other European countries are viewing Ankara’s aspirations, by and large, with some degree of skepticism for, in short, it is too big, too poor and too Muslim.
Some of the successes of Turkey’s reform efforts include for example limiting the influence of the army, which earlier acted as a sort of a shadow and of course unelected government that was significantly influencing politics and the functioning of public institutions. Moreover, Turkey has managed to cancel death penalty, which is one of the conditions to initiate talks, and also grant more rights to ethnic minorities. The Kurds, which account for more than 15 percent of the population, can nowadays speak their own language, run their own schools and a TV channel. However, it seems that ever since then, the Turkish government has lost motivation to carry on with the reforms.
Therefore, the legal system still includes outdated laws such as the denigration of “Turkishness” or the President and although there are normal elections, state media are grossly manipulating the public opinion, non-state media are being restricted and the power structure can still reliably sweep under the rug both its scandals and the investigators who dare to deal with them. This situation is further aggravated by its problematic relations with its neighbors: Turkey is refusing to recognize the government of the Greek part of Cyprus who is an EU member. At the same time, the ISIS attacks along the Turkish border areas strengthen concerns about the security of the potential future external EU border.
The EU should not take a buck-passing attitude and only criticize shortcomings of Turkish democracy but it should also try to re-open some chapters – which form the accession talks – and thus motivate Turkey towards further improvement, for example, by renewing the dialogue about human rights and justice. Turkey should be also given a chance to additionally join the Euro-US TTIP agreement as soon as it is finalized. Ultimately, the best cure for the sick Turkish democracy is a more intense contact with functioning democratic countries.
(The study can be downloaded here: http://www.realinstitutoelcano.org/wps/portal/web/rielcano_en/contenido?WCM_GLOBAL_CONTEXT=/elcano/elcano_in/zonas_in/wp14-2015-chislett-turkeys-10-years-of-eu-accession-negotiations-no-end-in-sight)