Turkey and the Dilemma of EU Accession

Written by | Monday, August 12th, 2013

Can Europe afford to deny Turkey an EU membership? Europe needs to acknowledge that its ties with Turkey are characterized by increasing complexity and interconnectedness and that it can’t abandon the process of Turkish accession by simply saying ‘no’. Europe needs Turkey and the ‘Arab Spring’ movement that has lead to dramatic socio-political changes in North Africa and the Middle East may serve as a reality check in this regard.

With Turkey on board, EU foreign and security policy will gain more strength, enhancing its advantage as a global geostrategic player. By admitting Turkey, Europe would seize the opportunity of really using its influence and power to shape the modern world. Most fundamentally, Turkey’s accession will help tackle the central problem of our time which is how to facilitate the Islamic civilization’s rapprochement with the Western world. Thus, wouldn’t it be fascinating if Europe took a leading role in this process? With this opportunity at hand, Europe needs the political will and courage to recognize that benefits far outweigh potential risks with respect to Turkey’s EU membership.

While, admittedly, Europeans may be concerned about the Islamic resurgence, the answer is not turning their back on one of the world’s most democratic and modern Muslim nations. If Turkey were to join Europe, this would be the flag-bearer moment of a working and successful alliance between Islam, democracy and modernity. It would show (not only) the Muslim world that any differences between the West and Islam are reconcilable, in turn refuting the arguments Islamic fundamentalists hold against the possibility of a peaceful coexistence between both civilizations.

When it comes to military involvement, another unfolding crisis happening now in the Arab world shows how important it is for the EU to leave its foreign policy footprint in the region and how unlikely this is to happen without the help of a regional power – Turkey. The EU has the duty to stop any massacre developing on its doorstep, but, as Catherine Ashton conceded, it lacks the foreign and security arm to do so. With Ankara on board, cooperation on internal and external security matters will significantly increase, while the backing of a Muslim country will further legitimize military interventions.

Europe needs Turkey but Turkey also needs Europe. Turkey needs Europe’s support in order to continue its role as a deal-broker in the Middle East as well as in nuclear disputes with Iran. Also, EU membership has always tended to work as a democratizing agent on Turkish domestic policy. Does anyone believe that Ankara would have scrapped its death penalty without prodding from Brussels? EU membership has always kept in check the Islamists and military from excessive interventions in politics or restricting human rights and individual freedoms. But with the negotiations at a standstill, there are fears that Turkey, though infinitely more democratic than in the past, might slide towards authoritarianism – after all, as weeks of nationwide anti-government protests particularly in Istanbul and Erdogan-led government’s brutal response attests. As the bonds with Europe are weakening, the scope for either the Islamists’ or the military’s political meddling is sure to grow. And if this undesirable process is to get underway, Europe’s apathy, hesitations and erratic behavior will be – at least partially – to blame for not turning Turkey into a beacon of democracy for the region.

Hence, instead of alienating Turkey, the EU should get off the dime and acknowledge that enlargement has been EU’s biggest success story to date. It has helped root democracy and boost reform efforts in all candidate countries. Europe needs to remind itself that enlargement and deepening integration happen at the same time. There is no need to choose between the two as the EU has always done both simultaneously.

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