Walking a Fine Line: Turkey and the EU


Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan met with European Commission officials in Brussels last week to discuss his country’s accession negotiations. The Prime Minister reaffirmed his commitment to the process, and appointed Egemen Bagis, a close personal adviser, to be his chief negotiator with Brussels.
The talks were tense at times, with Prime Minister Erdogan even threatening at one point to halt cooperation on the Nabucco gas pipeline project if membership talks were not accelerated. The importance of the project, which is the centerpiece of Europe’s strategy to diversify its natural gas supply away from Russia, was underscored by the recent row between Russia and Ukraine. At the same time, some in Europe are growing increasingly frustrated with the slow pace of Ankara’s political reforms.
Both Turkey and Europe would be wise to take a deep breath, temper their expectations of one another, and continue to cooperate toward an eventual marriage. Ankara cannot expect Brussels to be enthused by its modest first steps toward major political reform and Brussels must understand that a country as large, complex and with as rich a history as Turkey cannot escape from its authoritarian past without difficulty.
After sweeping into power in 2002, Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) government promised to enact a bold reform agenda and to set Turkey on the path toward EU membership. To this end, the government’s initial political reforms included modifying state institutions to ensure civilian control over the military and granting greater language and broadcasting rights to the country’s Kurdish minority. Brussels welcomed these reforms as positive first steps toward liberalization and as a result agreed in December 2004 to begin accession negotiations.
Since then, however, the pace of Turkey’s reform program has slowed to a crawl as deep fissures within the state have come to the fore. Over the past two years, the Constitutional Court came within one vote of ousting the ruling AKP from power, the government has arrested scores of journalists, military officers and union officials as part of its ongoing Ergenekon case, and the Kurdish conflict in the southeast has deepened. Europe can be forgiven for being nonplussed.
But the appropriate response is not to question whether Turkey belongs in Europe, as Nicolas Sarkozy has done, but to make clear that Europe is prepared to help Turkey liberalize so that it can eventually qualify. Indeed, both Ankara and Brussels would do well to acknowledge that Turkey remains in a period of political transition and that enduring institutional reforms will take time to become fully accepted by all of the key stakeholders.
Civilian authority is slowly usurping the military’s power – a development that in the long run is likely to lead to greater stability and democratic accountability. But in the short-run, such a seismic shift in the fabric of the state leads to conflict, instability, and stalemate.
This is evidenced by the government’s recent move to adopt a more strident policy toward the Kurds, which is most likely the result of an agreement – tacit or explicit – with the military.
While European governments are correct to criticize the policy shift, the best way to put the reform process back on track is for Europe to remain engaged and to make clear that reformers will be rewarded. Whether the current impasse constitutes a speed bump or a permanent roadblock to reform will depend in large part upon whether Brussels can walk a fine line and leave the door open to full membership without compromising its core principles.
–Ben Katcher


2 comments on “Walking a Fine Line: Turkey and the EU

  1. TonyForesta says:

    Knowing I will be swiftly slimed as simplistic allow me to posit two basic truths that define all international relations in the 21st Century.
    1) It’s all about the oil. Oil and energy access and distribution is the bedrock foundation of every nations political, economic, and military policies. Those nations who have oil are intrinsically threatened by those whose oil and energy demands for oil exceed thier domestic production capacity. This simple math is incontrevertable, and intregal to all the worlds warmaking enterprizes and every agreement, economic or every political negotiation, and every alliance alliance or cartel of alliances on earth.
    2) Islam (whose religion is the government in many nations) must define itself as a collective body, and decide once and for all if jihadist islam is a viable religion/government, or if more progressive Islam is willing to join the 21st Century community of nations.
    These two fundamental dynamics, or some varied combination of these two fundamental dynamics will define every policy and action; political, economic, and military in the near – and if we survive, longterm future that every nation on earth will pursue.
    Issues or capitalism vs crony capitalism vs socialism or some sundry variation of these economic ism’s are secondary as no nation and no society can survive or sustain without meeting it’s primary energy needs.
    Oil distribution, or the creation of some viable alternative to oil as the primary energy source and jihadist islam are the two primary thorns in the side of humanities progress.
    If leadership worldwide ignores these two fundamental dynamics, or chooses for whatever reason to work in untoward, illicit, or criminal ways to ignore, or cloak, or sustain these inherantly conflicted and fundamental dynamics – the world, and all humanity is doomed to a future of neverendingwar and quite likely total, or almost total destruction.


  2. Syed Qamar Afzal Rizvi says:

    Mr Ben Katcher’s views regarding the EU-Turkey equations of relations are certainly objective, yet one has to also aknowledge the reality that the capitulations set by Brussles regarding the EU’s criteria of reforms in Ankara notwithstanding,the EU’s policy makers need to adopt a bipartison approach toward the question of Turkey’s entry- bid .History warrants the fact that despite being a secular country-cum- strategic partner,Turkey yet remains a victim of Eurocrats’polarized thinking.


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