Turkey’s EU bid fades with little drama

By Paul Taylor
October 15, 2009

turkarmeniaTurkey’s bid to join the European Union is fading away with surprisingly little drama because investors no longer see the prospect of accession as an essential policy anchor.

But EU leaders should keep Ankara’s entry negotiations alive on the back burner rather than trying to engage Ankara on alternatives to membership, as French President Nicolas Sarkozy would like to do.

In a version of the old Soviet workers’ joke, “they pretend to pay us and we pretend to work,” the buzz on Turkey in the European Commission’s enlargement department is, “they pretend
they’re reforming and we pretend we want them”.

The EU’s biggest candidate began accession talks on the same day as Croatia in 2005. At that time, optimists on both sides reckoned the negotiations might be concluded within a decade.
But while Zagreb was told by Brussels on Wednesday that it can expect to wrap up its entry talks next year, Ankara has not even advanced one-quarter of the way. The Turks got another
C-minus “must try harder” annual progress report.

The unresolved Cyprus conflict has shackled their progress, prompting the EU to freeze eight of the 36 policy chapters in the negotiations. The election of Sarkozy, who is openly hostile to Turkish membership, forced the EU to take another five policy areas off the table.

The changed political mood in France and Germany, the EU’s two central powers, has dimmed prospects of the overwhelmingly Muslim nation of 71 million ever joining the 27-nation bloc. Any further accession treaty after Croatia’s will be subject to a referendum in France, where public opinion is strongly against Turkish accession, unless a three-fifths majority of both houses of parliament improbably decides otherwise.

Without the magnet of membership, the EU’s ability to spur political and economic reform in Turkey is ever weaker. Some in Brussels fault Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan for failing to lead
the reform drive, but it’s a hard sell if most Turks rightly surmise that they have no prospect of EU entry.

Five years ago, Turkey’s accession process was seen, along with its International Monetary Fund standby loan programme, as a guarantee of monetary, fiscal and economic stability, drawing huge inflows of foreign direct investment and portfolio funds.

Yet the absence of an IMF programme and virtual deadlock in the EU talks no longer spook the markets. Financial stability and the rule of law, at least for foreign investors, have become
more self-sustaining. Turkey is set to exit the global financial crisis in better shape than most other emerging markets. The fact that it is still talking to the European Commission about adopting EU norms is reassuring for investors.

The government is supporting negotiations for a solution on Cyprus, even though it still refuses to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot traffic. It has made a historic opening to Armenia
(picture shows the Armenian and Turkish presidents with UEFA president Michel Platini at a soccer match) and now espouses a political and economic solution, rather than a purely military one, for the Kurdish southeast of the country. It has also gradually exerted more civilian control over the military, despite frequent tensions.

Turkey has also built stronger ties with other neighbours — Russia, Iran, Iraq and Syria — while maintaining good relations with Israel and the United States.

The Turks may one day decide on their own that they don’t need EU membership. The accession negotiations have helped them modernise their economy and governance, But they have plenty of other strategic options.

12 comments

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What amazes me is just how pro-Turkish the English media is. Turkey has many faults, however the fact that this particular journalist has not even seen fit to mention the constant Turkish military aerospace violations over Greek Islands is ineresting to say the least. Turkey has extremely strong ties with the US, UK and Israel. The problem therefore is more to do with Europe not willing to let another Israeli/American ally in the alliance. It is known that UK has been Turkey’s biggest supporter for EU membership along withe the USA, maybe one a day an English journalist will be brave enough to say just why that is without suggesting that the rest of Europe is simply islamiphobic.

Posted by Razak Abdul | Report as abusive

The EU populace apparently requires many more centuries of ‘social evolution’ toward respecting the Universal Human Rights! Turkey with its young, dynamic human resource base has no need for the ‘Crusader Mentality’ of the EU. Turkey after all has become the 17th largest economy in the World on its own. No need to waste time with the Chauvenistic, Racist mindset of the likes of Sarkozy.

Posted by Levo | Report as abusive

Quite simply, Turkey is tired of being rebuffed by the bigoted west and you cant blame them for it. The EU cant have its cake and eat it too.

Posted by Randy | Report as abusive

There is no way that Turkey can join the E.U. until their is progress on the Cyprus issue. The Armenian and Kurdish issues also need some more progress or Turkey will not meet E.U. requirements.

Issues involving freedom of religion and freedom of speech in Turkey must be rectified as well.

Still, perhaps it will be possible eventually for Turkey to join. It will take a long time before all the issues can be worked out.

Posted by Lo | Report as abusive

Turkey is a country in transition. Its economy is modernizing, and its population is young and dynamic. However, Turkey also views itself as a regional power and does not easily compromise with its neighbours (or allies), they are looking more to the East rather than the West for their geopolitical aims, and they are moving away from secularism to a more traditional Islamic system of governance (seen in the current spat with Israel). Turkey is not European, and does not belong in Europe.

Posted by Geoffrey | Report as abusive

I don’t understand why Turkey would more suitable to become Eu member than Ukraine, Belarus and Russia .The former soviet countries are secular, have similar cultural customs like the eu member’s countries and preserved their traditional European heritage.

Posted by slavko | Report as abusive

The rise of racism under the flag of the fear of “Islamic terrorism” triggered by the likes of Sarkozy and the far right in Europe use Turkey as their spacegoat to justify their bigotry. I wish the Government of Turkey would turn around and let the Europeans take their precious “EU” and put it where the sun does not shine……..The Emperial mentality of the Europeans lives on….dont forget what the French did to its colonies namely Algeria, or the Germans and the Dutch….unfortunately history is always seen by the eyes of the writers….that is why its important for countries like Turkey to own up and write their own history….

Posted by Ace | Report as abusive

I am a Turkish citizen living in the U.S. and I am really tired of racist and prejudicious European countries. Sarkozky himself is a descendant of an immigrant family. I say Europe needs Turkey more than Turkey needs Europe. Turkey is full of hard-working, young, dynamic and pro-market modern people. It will be among the top 10 economies of the world in the next couple of decades. Finally to all Greek, Cypriot and Armenians with turkophobia. EU accession is not a strong leverage to move Turkey from its already rightful position.

Posted by Drama | Report as abusive

Turkey keeps making the claim that Europe needs it more than Turkey needs Europe. One further amusing claim is that the Europeans need the Turkish army and the country’s population. They don’t realize that both point to Turkey’s vulnerabilities such as The Kurdish problem and the dangerous neighborhood that it inhabits. If Europe needs an army for protection, such army needs to be garrisoned in a central location and made up of German, French, Spanish and other soldiers, not an inaccessible corner of Europe and certainly not stationed in the middle east. And if Europe wishes a population increase what better candidate than Russia that is well educated and full of mineral and energy resources which Europe needs so much from an energy independence point of view. It a well known fact that Turkey’s foreign policy favors a Pan Turkic and Neo-Ottoman model where Turkey plays a central role. It frequently uses this model to tell the Europeans that it does not need them. Well then what’s the purpose of applying? The truth is Turkey has an economy which is 50% dependent on European trade and certainly it is Turkey that needs Europe and not the other way around. In the end there has to be a unanimous vote for Turkey’s acceptance into the EU. The problem is that instead of Turkey doing its homework, Turkey is more interested in semantics and manifestations of rank. Turkey pays more attention to its status that it occasionally forgets what an oppressive impression it makes to European states small and large alike.

Posted by Eiffel | Report as abusive

It was obvious from the first day that eruope will not accept a muslim country to their domain. It was foolish for Turks to think otherwise. However Turkey’s geo stretegic importance will increase in the future as europe becomes more dependent on natural gas imports.

Posted by Cheema | Report as abusive

Turkey does not want to change. If Turkey respected human rights in Cyprus and minorities like gays,christians and kurds it would no longer be Turkey. Turkey will change 12 times before it conforms to Europe. Turks complain about racial intolerance amongst European leaders. Has anyone seen what they have done to christian churches in Cyprus ancient christian churches and grave yards have been desecrated.My grandmothers tombstone was thrown 120 metres from where she was buired and the cross was smashed and graffitied. They have ethnically cleansed every last non-Turk including catholics,Greeks,Armenians and others from entire villages and towns at gun point and prevent them returning to their homes. Turkey is perhaps the most racist regime on earth. When South Africa had a policy of Aparthied they were the subject of embargoes as well. Turkey will be a multicultural, democratic and peaceful country before it is allowed into Europe. To expect a religiofascist regime like Turkey is now to join the EU is dreamland.

Posted by Alberto | Report as abusive

Wake-up Turkey, 4get the EU. Sarkozy gave 2 reasons against Turkish EU membership, one was its ***moslem*** the second was that Turkey is ***non European*** Infact, to many in the Eu, Israel is more European than Turkey, Nowonder they masacare palestinian, occupy their land but still, Iran a country that has never attacked any neighbour posses more danger according to them.

Posted by Ramzy | Report as abusive