Turkey and Europe: the way ahead

DISCLAIMER: All opinions in this column reflect the views of the author(s), not of EURACTIV Media network.

The AK Party’s victory in the July 2007 parliamentary elections creates an opportunity for both it and the EU to “re-launch” Turkey’s accession process, according to an August report from the International Crisis Group.

Europe has “nothing to lose” and “everything to gain” from Turkey’s membership aspirations, insists the report. While the country is not yet ready to join – with the earliest possible date of accession “a decade away” – leaders and diplomats must keep avenues open for when political confidence returns, it adds. 

The report claims that European opponents of Turkish accession “underestimate the transformative potential” of the reform process, as well as the damage they do to European interests – citing Turkey’s development of an independent military policy and the lack of progress in energy security as examples. 

The Group calls for Prime Minister Erdogan to “catch Europe’s imagination” with sweeping new reforms, such as an overhaul of the penal code, while Europe should continue the accession process and not exclude the ultimate possibility of membership. 

A change in mood in both Turkey and the EU over the last two years – due in the Turkish case to a resurgent nationalism and the actions of new governments of Germany and France, and in the European case increased human rights abuses and prosecutions of writers in Turkey, as well as military intervention in politics – has led to a fall in public support for membership on both sides, remarks the report. 

The International Crisis Group makes a number of recommendations on how the EU should proceed if the accession process is to be revitalised: 

  • Remain engaged in Turkey’s convergence with EU norms and refrain from undermining the promise that full compliance will ultimately mean membership. 
  • Focus on the rational and legal aspects of the membership conditions, rather than making judgements on subjective cultural and religious ideas.
  • Leaders should do more to explain the mutual benefits of Turkish accession. 

Meanwhile, it recommends that the Turkish government: 

  • Shows renewed commitment to the reform process, and in particular the need to redraft the penal code and expand the freedom of Kurdish-language broadcasting. 
  • Launches a Kurdish policy compatible with European norms. 
  • Takes on multilateral responsibilities that underline Turkey’s role as a strategic asset to the EU. 

The report concludes that Turkey is a European country whose membership goal is “critical to the Turkish perception of EU sincerity”, and that an “unfair” snub to Turkey would put the EU’s “moral authority” at risk. 

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