Turkey and the EU
Turkey and the EU: A broken relationship?
27 June 2013
The European Union’s member states agreed on Tuesday (25 June) to resume talks with Turkey on its bid to become a member of the EU, ending a three-year suspension of talks. The decision had seemed to be a foregone conclusion, following France’s agreement in February to lift its objections. In the end, though, the decision became highly uncertain because of the Turkish government’s crackdown on nationwide protests that began on 28 May over plans to build over Taksim Gezi Park in central Istanbul. Even now, obstacles may emerge, because the talks – on adoption of EU legislation related to regional policy (chapter 22 of the accession talks) – will formally be launched only in the autumn, after the European Commission’s annual report on Turkey’s progress towards meeting commitments made to the EU.
In the past month, the European Parliament has collectively criticised Turkey’s handling of the demonstrations, eliciting accusations from Turkey’s Europe minister, Egemen Bagˇis¸, that it was guilty of “disproportionate, unbalanced and irrational declarations” and “dirty plans for and manipulation of national and international instruments”. European Voice asked six MEPs whether the EU should re-open accession talks with Turkey and how the EU’s relations with Turkey should develop.
Teary eyes filled with fear, unarmed citizens running from the police – those are the pictures from Turkey these days. The sad result of the brutal police force: five dead and thousands injured. Not to mention the large number of citizens who have been arrested.
In light of the images from Istanbul and other Turkish cities, it puzzles me that some politicians – including the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz – are still calling for the European Union to open new chapters in negotiations in Turkey’s bid for membership. They argue that this is the only possible way to exert influence on Turkey and to keep Turkey on the right track. In my opinion, Turkey abandoned the right track long ago and is deliberately driving in the opposite direction. Where was the influence of the EU when the Turkish government gradually turned away from secularism and towards an Islamist regime? Where was the influence of the EU when Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdog˘an accepted a diplomatic crisis with Israel in order to appeal to anti-Semitic voters? And where is the influence of the EU if we ignore the brutal approach by the Turkish government towards its own citizens and continue with business as usual?
I agree with those who view the protests themselves as a product of the process of democratisation within Turkish society in recent years. However, the protesters do not yet represent the majority of citizens. Furthermore, it is not with the Turkish population that the EU negotiates about potential accession; it has to address itself to the Turkish government. Erdog˘an and his ministers have made it more than clear, however, that they have no respect for European values and its institutions.
If a government openly denies the legitimacy of the European Parliament, which represents 500 million EU citizens, and threatens to recall its permanent representative if the opening of new chapters is delayed, the EU has no option but to suspend negotiation. Anything else would convince Erdog˘an that he can continue with his authoritarian leadership, the suppression of citizens and blackmail of the EU.
But what is the alternative to accession negotiations? I am convinced that a privileged partnership would allow us to maintain our support for basic rights and freedom through financial and administrative assistance, while granting Turkey its sovereignty. The current events show that our constant support for civil society organisations in Turkey is bearing fruit. Maybe one day those fruits will be harvested in the form of political change.
Renate Sommer is a German centre-right MEP and a member of the European Parliament’s delegation to Turkey.
For some time now we have been working on the false assumption that the Turkish government is ready and willing to make the large sacrifice of national sovereignty that is required on joining the European Union. While the process of assimilating the acquis communautaire continued, it was pardonable to pretend that European integration was good for Turkey and for the EU, and the more aligned Turkey got to be to European norms and values, the better all round.
As fiscal integration deepens, however, and political union nears, it becomes more difficult to maintain that pretence. Neither the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) nor the Republican People’s Party (CHP) are ready to make the minimal changes in Cyprus that would normalise Turkey’s accession process, let alone to embrace a European federal agenda. On the EU side, several member states would veto Turkish membership. So we know perfectly well that if Turkey is ever to draw closer to the European Union, it will be more on the lines of semi-detached Britain than as a full member state.
The revolt of the Turkish middle class is a welcome protest against the stifling, statist conformity of the Ankara establishment. Both Kemalist and Islamist ideologies are challenged. This is good news for those of us who yearn for Turkey to become a modern European place.
Once we see where Turkish society is headed, we will be able to take decisions on how to recalibrate EU-Turkey relations. We will need more reliable interlocutors than we have had recently in Ankara. We will watch eagerly for progress in relations with the Kurds and on Cyprus. We will engage across Turkey with whoever wishes it. In the meantime, this is the time to stop pretending that the opening of new chapters in the formal enlargement process is meaningful. Taksim Gezi Park has changed the ‘positive agenda’ for good.
Andrew Duff is a British Liberal MEP and president of the Union of European Federalists.
When the European Parliament this March adopted a resolution on the European Commission’s report on Turkey’s progress in 2012, the Parliament affirmed the importance of a constructive relationship between the European Union and Turkey. It also stated the belief that a renewed mutual engagement in the context of the negotiation process was needed in order to maintain this constructive relationship.
Looking at the current status of the negotiations, I believe the opening of chapters could be helpful to bring back the much needed dynamics in the process, and I therefore welcomed the steps undertaken by the Irish presidency of the Council of Ministers to open chapter 22 on regional policy.
At the same time, it is important to stress that it would be much more important, also in light of recent developments in Turkey, to take steps conducive to the opening of the chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights, and on justice, security and freedom. These are at the heart of the European project, and I believe Turkey still needs to make significant efforts in this area. The international community has expressed concern about the recent events in Turkey, and it is important that the concerns of Turkish citizens throughout the country are addressed.
However, while the opening of chapters certainly is one element in the relationship between Turkey and the EU, it does not define the relationship. Relations between Turkey and the EU transcend the mere opening of chapters. They are about working together and creating synergies for a prosperous future for all our citizens. They are about jointly tackling common challenges in key areas such as energy, economy, trade and foreign policy, and it is important to further dialogue and co-operation in these areas.
What we need now is a strong commitment from both the EU and Turkey to improve the relationship and to re-build the conditions for a constructive dialogue and the foundations of a common understanding, based on common values of democracy, the rule of law and respect for human rights. This will require efforts from both sides. This is certainly a difficult time, but I strongly believe that genuine mutual commitment today will strengthen our relation in the future.
Ria Oomen-Ruijten is a Dutch centre-right MEP and the European Parliament’s rapporteur on Turkey.
The European Union urgently needs to re-launch the negotiation process with Turkey by opening at least chapter 22, but also, as soon as possible, the chapters on judiciary and fundamental rights, which are at the heart of the demands being made by the peaceful protesters in Turkey. After a hiatus of three years, a longer pause than ever imposed on a candidate country, the credibility and influence of the EU on Turkey is at risk of being destroyed if we do not respect our commitments and do not fight, at the same time, against populist, nationalist and authoritarian temptations present both in Turkey and in the EU. A delay in opening talks, on the pretext of indicating our solidarity with the peaceful demonstrators, could end up penalising them.
The EU can no longer act as a lever for democracy and peace to strengthen the camp of Turkish liberals, or leave the field open to abuses against those liberals. The EU has many ways in which it can signal its disagreement with the Turkish government’s handling of the crisis. One could imagine, for example, the opening of a chapter in the absence of a minister or commissioner.
Turkey is currently at a historic crossroads, of which Taksim Gezi Park is symptomatic. The debate about the peace process begun with the Kurdish seperatist movement, the PKK, the drafting of a new constitution, and reforms to counter-terrorism laws are causes of hope. Freedom of speech has been freed, and the number of political actors, forums and instruments has multiplied. But Turkey is also facing a growing social polarisation, a re-activation of a culture of security, the embrace of military history by a police force that has put itself in the exclusive service of the state against its citizens. These features are undermining the historic opportunities that Turkey has.
In this highly volatile context, the events of Taksim Gezi Park could lead both to a deepening of democracy in Turkey and a significant regression in terms of fundamental rights. In the worst-case scenario, the isolation of Turkey could profoundly destabilise a country that is already being affected by the situation in Syria, mark a resumption of the conflict with the PKK and lead to direct confrontations between the majority Sunni and minority Alevi communities in Turkey.
To prevent this nightmarish vision and to contribute to the strengthening of the pro-European liberal movement in Turkey, it is particularly crucial to offer the prospect of accession. No offence to the devotees of Orientalism and to those who like conspiracy theories, but the future of European and Turkish democracy is and will remain inter-dependent.
Hélène Flautre is a French Green MEP and chairwoman of the European
Parliament’s delegation to Turkey.
Almost eight years since the launching of Turkey’s membership negotiations, Turkey finds itself somewhat isolated and lacking the support of many of the member states that could push the country into the European Union’s orbit. Many member states support the accession of Turkey, some member states are pretending that they support it, and others are against it and they are hiding behind others. A sense of scepticism is rising in some key European states concerned about the effect that the admission of a country the size of Turkey could have on the EU’s balance. “The country [Turkey] would overburden the European Union because of its size and the structure of its economy,” Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel recently said. So the challenge for Turkey is to change the way it perceives its own size and power. (Honestly, I believe that Germany needs to do the same itself, but the fact is that Germany is already a member state and not a candidate one.)
As for the question of opening chapter 22 of accession talks with the EU, I am very clear. I and other Greek Cypriots support the opening of talks. But a general comment should be made: if Turkey is honest about its interest in opening chapters and in making progress in the accession process, it must – like any other candidate country – promote democracy, implement reforms and reinforce human rights. This is the only way to prove itself to be a reliable partner. But there can be no democracy in Turkey without respecting the rights of the minorities, without a solution to the Kurdish issue, and without restoring the fundamental rights of all Cypriots. We, as Cypriots, honestly support Turkey’s accession to EU, since this presupposes a solution to the Cyprus problem. Furthermore, we need Turkey as a democratised member state and as a reliable neighbour, rather than as a fundamentalist, aggressive state.
I will conclude by saying something very crucial for Turkey: Turkey must be very prudent these days, as it cannot be excluded that the idea of a new Kurdish state may emerge as a solution to the problems posed by the country’s inability to manage its size and power.
Takis Hadjigeorgiou is a left-wing Greek Cypriot MEP in the European United Left-Nordic Green Left group in the European Parliament, and is a member of the Parliament’s delegation to Turkey.
I make no apology for being one of the strongest proponents of Turkey’s accession to the European Union. But no true friend of Turkey could or should remain silent in the wake of the brutal crackdown on the Taksim Square protests – even if the country’s own media tried to remain silent. But my reaction to the crisis is the need for more, not less, Europe in Turkey.
It is precisely European values of human rights and the rule of law that the protesters desire. And would the government’s response have been so anti-European if the EU had allowed – as the European Parliament demanded – the opening of negotiations on chapters 23 and 24 of the accession talks, which addresses issues of justice and democracy raised by the Turkish authorities’ attempts to suppress protests?
But the proposal on the table is to open the chapter on regional policy. The objective case for this is strong, given the need to buttress support to the south-east of the country, where the minority Kurdish community is concentrated, and where peace in the long-running conflict with PKK terrorists is within reach.
To restore constructive relations between the EU and Turkey requires an end to the aggressive rhetoric from the Turkish government, which called criticisms from myself and fellow MEPs “insane” and threatened that we would “pay a price”.
I was deeply disappointed that the Turks cancelled the delegation I was due to take part in with colleagues from the European Parliament’s foreign-affairs committee, because dialogue is needed now more than ever.
Which is why European leaders must refuse the temptation to make a decision that would be perceived as a deliberate ‘snub’ by the Turkish side (and would be intended as such by some of them, if they were to speak frankly).
It is time for both sides to show diplomacy.
For the European Council, that means that the EU should show that it can and will honour its own promises, and not allow the debate to be led by the minority who seek to obstruct Turkey altogether.
This week, that means sticking to our criticisms but at the very same time opening the new chapter, to show all in Turkey that they have a real choice to make – a choice for democracy.
Richard Howitt is a centre-left British MEP and a member of the joint committee of the European and Turkish parliaments.
The Economist Newspaper Limited (European Voice)