Privileged partnership offers Turkey neither privilege nor partnership

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

Talk of a privileged partnership between the EU and Turkey “looks more and more like a scapegoat for popular European fears about jobs, immigration and Islam,” writes Hugh Pope, a project director at the International Crisis Group, in a June paper.

“Right-wingers won big in the European elections this month, and one of their rallying cries has been that the EU should renege on its promise of an eventual place for Turkey in the European Union,” Pope says. “In its place, they are offering a vision of privileged partnership.”

However, “the German and French governments have published no documents saying how this privileged partnership can substitute for Turkey’s existing EU associate membership,” Pope deplores.

“The only theoretical study apparently available dates back to 2004,” he recalls, referring to a 33-page document by Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg, currently Germany’s economy minister.

“Zu Guttenberg’s plan would extend the existing EU-Turkey customs union into areas advantageous to the Union – agriculture and services – while allowing Turkey into most European institutions as an observer only,” Pope explains.

“Turkey would be integrated in European defence, security and foreign policy mechanisms, with eventual full membership of the relevant decision-making bodies,” he added. “This is an advance on the current situation, but it is not particularly generous, considering that Turkey has already helped defend Europe for 57 years as a full and continuing member of NATO,” he insists.

“The European People’s Party members of the European Parliament in 2005 offered an eight-point plan [in which] EU concerns came first,” he claims.

But “there is a downside to privileged partnership,” writes Pope. “European states have formally contracted with Turkey that it is in a process leading to full accession to the Union, if and when it satisfies all the criteria. Reversing this obligation for transparent reasons of domestic politics sends a message that Europe cannot be trusted,” he underlines.

“Turkey’s negotiations to accede to the European Union are good for Turks and good for Europeans, as long-standing strategic allies and economic partners,” Pope insisted. “As Turkey’s failure to sustain reforms since 2005 shows, it needs the goal of full EU membership as a vital locomotive in its transformation process,” he explains.

“Blaming the EU-Turkey accession process does not just build up problems for the EU-Turkey relationship […] but it also delays an honest appraisal of the true causes of […] fears [about jobs, immigration and Islam] in European states themselves,” his paper concludes. 

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