EU and Turkey: Time to act

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

A staff adjusts European Union and Turkish flags ahead of the arrival of Turkey's PM Erdogan at the EU Commission headquarters in Brussels. [Reuters]

The failure of the coup attempt in Turkey is celebrated as a victory for democracy by Turks. However, after rapidly condemning the coup, the EU’s weak solidarity has become a source of resentment for Ankara, writes Bahadir Kaleagasi.

Bahadir Kaleagasi is International Coordinator and EU Representative, TUSIAD-Turkish Industry & Business Association, as well as president of the Paris Bosphorus Institute

Many EU politicians criticize Turkey’s handling of the post-coup security operations while the Turkish government raises its voice against the EU’s lack of empathy. So what can be done beyond words?

The European Union has at its disposal an effective soft-power algorithm which proved its efficiency in the past: accession chapters, especially those covering the supporting pillars of a democracy: fundamental rights, justice and freedoms (23&24). Already a decade ago, the former EU Commissioner Olli Rehn warned: “We need to apply rigorous conditionality. Experience shows that the better the new member states are prepared, the smoother the EU functions after enlargement. Difficult issues, such as judicial reform and the fight against corruption, must be addressed at an early stage of the negotiations” (European Parliament, 13 December 2006).

The opening of these chapters is not a gift to anybody. Chapters of negations are tools of action aiming to monitor and transform an accession country’s legislation and policies in convergence with the European values, standards and interests. Activating the accession chapters 23 and 24 will reveal an EU going beyond lip-service and acting coherently and consequentially. The actual veto of Cyprus on these chapters is harming the security and economic interests of Cypriots, Turks and all EU citizens. While encouraging Cyprus to act rationally, other EU capitals may already re-confirm their proposal to open them. This would offer the EU and Turkey an institutional channel to talk about all concerns in a systematic, disciplined and transparent way, with technical facts and tangible results. Blocked EU process is part of the problem. No solution to actual problems in the EU-Turkey relations can be designed without changing a policy which created them.

The successful achievement of the EU-Turkey customs union’s actual modernization process is also in the EU’s toolbox. Being part of the EU’s customs union on industrial goods, Turkey has already gone as far as complying with more than half of the single market regulations. The next step involves the extension to the services, agriculture, public procurement and conflict resolution mechanism. This would enhance Europe’s global economic competitiveness and Turkey’s trajectory in the European economic and regulatory sphere.

A policy of positive re-engagement of Turkey should also be propelled by the prospect of a historic peace deal in Cyprus. UN-led talks with the aim to reunite the island under a federal roof are once more promising. As a unified EU democracy shared by two communities of different ethnic and religious backgrounds, the new Cyprus will be a salutary success-story that the democratic world needs right now. This will be a historical milestone enhancing European values and soft-power, as well as Turkey’s positive re-engagement in the European integration process. The leaders of Cyprus, Turkey, Greece and the UN contributing to this endeavor will deserve a Nobel Peace Prize.

In fact, the cost of excluding Turkey from European integration is very high for both the EU and Turkish citizens. If Turkey had been well engaged in the EU accession process since negotiations began in 2005—on issues from the foreign policy, rule of law and refugees and to economic growth or energy policies—today’s picture would be different. The European Union would be a better global power, and Turkey would be a stronger European democracy showing greater convergence with European values and interests. The results of the EU’s failed Turkey policy are clear.

Meanwhile, the question of Brexit has accelerated an evolution toward a Union marked by differentiated integration, and eventually a Europe of several circles of membership: the wider Europe and a more federal eurozone core. Enlargement would also become an easier public debate for the national politics, while emphasizing that the core Europe is not affected by this development. Thus, when Turkey fulfills the criteria of membership to wider Europe, this will be the enlargement of Europe’s geography of democracy, law, economy, energy and security. This prospect makes Turkey’s European integration possible once more; and once more, the EU can exercise its transformational power on Turkey. This positive influence is also a policy that was tested—successfully—from the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s.

However, because of blurred vision, weak creativity, and reluctant action, Europe now is undermining its future. The problem concerns all European countries, including Turkey. This is not only about Turkey or the challenges of terrorism, rule of law and refugees, but also about the immense opportunities stemming from radical changes in society: the digital economy, green energy, smart cities, and so on. These changes all require smarter democracy and a smarter Europe. Maybe ‘Democracy 4.0’ in the age of Industry 4.0.

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