Resetting EU/Turkey relations

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

It is time for EU-Turkey relations to be 'reset' following recent tensions,says Javier Solana. He goes on to argue that Turkish accession to the EU would enable Europe 'to become an active global player, rather than a museum'.

Javier Solana, former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy and secretary-general of NATO, is a Distinguished Senior Fellow in Foreign Policy at the Brookings Institute and president of the ESADE Centre for Global Economy and Geopolitics.

"Just five months ago, Osama bin Laden was alive, Hosni Mubarak was firmly in control in Egypt, and Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali ruled Tunisia with an iron hand. Today, popular rebellion and political change have spread throughout the region. We have witnessed brutal repression of protests in Syria and Yemen, Saudi troops crossing into Bahrain, and an ongoing battle for Libya.

For Europe, the 'Arab Spring' should refocus attention on an issue largely ignored in recent months: the benefits of Turkey's full membership of the European Union. Given the tremendous opportunities present in the current circumstances, the advantages for Europe of Turkey's accession should be obvious.

With Recep Tayyip Erdo?an now elected to another term as Turkey's prime minister, and with Poland, a country well acquainted with the importance of Europe's strategic position in the world, assuming the EU presidency at the end of the month, now is a time for the Union and Turkey to 'reset' their negotiations over Turkish membership.

The good that Turkey can bring to Europe was visible even before the 'Arab Spring'. Europe is, by definition, culturally diverse, so diversity is the EU's destiny. And, if Europe is to become an active global player, rather than a museum, it needs the fresh perspective and energy of the people of Turkey.

Europe today is both larger and different compared to the Europe of 1999, when Turkey was invited to begin the accession process. It is also experiencing a profound economic crisis, which erupted around the same time that the Lisbon Treaty – aimed at accommodating EU enlargement – was finally approved. Had the treaty been approved in 2005 as intended, it would have been in place for six years, and the strain placed by the crisis on EU economic governance – so visible in the euro zone's recent problems – would have been much more manageable.

But the EU always faces problems, resolves them, and moves on. Today, we don't have a treasury, but we are about to have something similar. Similarly, the European Central Bank has capacities today that no one imagined in, say, 1997.

A major challenge that Europe must still face is migration, which will only become a bigger problem over time. Between now and 2050, Europe's workforce will decrease by 70 million. Maintaining our economy requires migration and open EU borders – and facing down the populist movements in Europe that would shun 'outsiders'."

To read the op-ed in full, please click here.

Published in partnership with Project Syndicate.

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