Turkey’s path towards the membership in the European Union and the prospect of its permanent place among Western democracies have both reached a dead end. This disappointing development was not preordained albeit all knew that Turkey’s EU membership was always going to be a difficult endeavor mostly due to prejudices existing on both sides.
The launch of Turkey’s membership talks was possible thanks to a democratic wave initiated by a coalition of political parties in 1999 and revitalized by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) in 2002. The accession talks won the support of 74 percent of the Turkish population in 2005 and hopes were high that Turkey’s membership in the EU could for once prove that Islam, democracy and modernity could work hand in hand. Turkey and the EU would have decisively refuted the idea of the clash of civilizations advanced by writers such as Samuel Huntington.
The decision of EU leaders to formally freeze the accession talks was a milestone in a problematic journey. It was the first time when the process was put on hold for a candidate country, in case of Turkey it was frozen due to continuing violations of fundamental freedoms. As a result, the historic opportunity for both the EU and Turkey has thus lost almost all realistic prospects.
According to experts, the responsibility for this failure is on both sides. First, the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy blocked the desire of the Turkish people to join the bloc and during the 2007-2012 period, he exploited the widespread opposition to Turkish membership for his populist agenda. On top of that, the EU has never successfully addressed the latent conflict in Cyprus, a divided island, which also contributed to the loss of trust.
So where do we go from here? The formal freeze from the EU’s side is very likely to trigger more tensions in the mutual ties with Turkey and mainly inside Turkey. This will probably have a bearing on the refugee deal of March 2016, in which Turkey pledged to tame the flow of illegal migrants to Europe in return for financial assistance, resettlement, and visa liberalization.
In any case, Ankara and Brussels will have to create a new framework for their relations. If the EU is interested in having a say in Turkish affairs, the new framework should include a revised set of good governance conditions tied to a program of comprehensive trade liberalization. The proposed modernization of the Turkey-EU customs union provides such an opportunity. However, the new beginning should for now start without the discussion of human rights issues. Instead, it should focus on the rule of law and the implementation of pro-market reforms in Turkey that would lead to a fair and predictable economic climate.
‘How Turkey and Europe Lost That Loving Feeling’ – Op-Ed by Sinan Ülgen – Carnegie Europe.
(The Analysis can be downloaded here)