EU membership for Turkey: One step forward, two backwards

, by Anne Balzer, Translated by Pia Menning

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EU membership for Turkey: One step forward, two backwards

Next year, the EU and Turkey are celebrating a rare jubilee – in 2015 the accession negotiations last a whole decade. The unsuccessful blocking of Twitter, the corruption scandal and the harsh approach towards the protesters of Gezi allow legitimate doubt that the negotiations will ever be completed. At least under the current government of Erdogan, the planned accession is only a farce.

Disappointed hopes

In its quest for modernization, Turkey was always oriented towards the west, the EU accession was therefore a declared aim of several Turkish governments. When the Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power in 2002, the full membership of the international community appeared to be only a matter of time. Ambitious reform packages lead, among other things, to the abolishment of the death penalty, progress on the Kurdish issue was made and the judicial system restructured. However, many hopes were dashed by a lack of commitment of some EU countries: France links a membership to a referendum, Merkel favors a privileged partnership. No wonder that the hope that an accession is indeed possible is fading on the Turkish side for years. Doubts are appropriate, after all the negotiations with Turkey are the longest-lasting in the history of the EU, with no end in sight. The Economic Development Foundation (IKV), a foundation in Istanbul, accompanied the relations between Turkey and the EU since the 1960s. The scientific director Melih Özsöz sees the lack of time schedules, until when the negotiations on a chapter have to be completed, as the biggest problem: “This presents a major challenge and may in the long term end in a vicious cycle,” he told .

The role model of a Muslim Democracy breaks

A government that cracks down hard on demonstrators, which is embroiled in a corruption scandal, exerts pressure on the press, practices internet censorship and does not recognize the EU member Cyprus: How should this country fit into an alliance that sees itself united through democracy and the principles of the rule of law? Ödül Celep, lecturer at the Işık University in Istanbul, researches on the topic of Turkish party politics. He regrets the increasing centralization and autocratization in Turkey, “which progresses more and more with each passing day and puts us in a category with China and Russia.” At the same time Europe disappears more and more of the agenda. “In the current municipal elections, the EU is not an issue. We are much more concerned with the internal political crisis, especially the corruption scandal.” says Celep to “Nor do I expect that the EU will have great significance in the next presidential or parliamentary elections.”

Conflicting signals from Brussels

On the other hand, there are issues where the EU and Turkey are currently moving closer together. The readmission agreement which was confirmed by the European Parliament in February is seen as a milestone in the accession negotiations. It stipulates that Turkey has to receive migrants who have entered the EU illegally via the Turkish border. But even here, the mutual distrust is evident. The negotiations lasted nearly nine years. Ultimately, Ankara has made the long-awaited dialogue on visa facilitation for Turkish citizens as a condition of the agreement. Both sides link the implementation of the agreements on the progress of the other partner. The current progress report of the European Parliament also sends out conflicting signals. On the one hand, the importance of the strategic partnership and the progress of the reforms are emphasized, simultaneously one observes “concerned” the compliance with the Copenhagen criteria. The MEPs see the therein defined democratic principles, the rule of law and the compliance with human rights in Turkey in danger or vacant. Particular reference is made in the report on weaknesses of the functioning of the judicial system.

Nothing is lost

Despite the current internal political developments and the criticism of the EU, Özsöz believes that the accession should remain a long- term goal. “The already existing close economic ties and the high level of integration of Turkish citizens in the Union should also be recognized de jure, through Turkey’s membership,” he claims. Neither the Western European states nor the Turkish society should give up on the accession to the EU. However, both sides must move on a little. First, the results of the local elections on March 30 have to be seen. This will show how much support the Erdoğan government still has. “We need a fresh start,” says Celep. “But this is only possible with a coalition government without the AKP or a social democratic alternative.” The Gezi-protests last year were a political awakening for many Turks. Since then politics are being discussed, it is protested against the latest laws and fundamental questions are being asked. If the democratic movement manages to organize itself in the long term, this should be rewarded by the Western European countries. A more open-minded negotiation attitude of France and Germany is then crucial. The example of Turkey also shows that the European Union has to become clear about its own identity and needs to send appropriate signals. Is it a “Christian club” or a dynamic, open community? If this question is resolved, confidence may again arise and it can be negotiated on equal footing.

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