Turkey and the EU

The Washington Times Weekly - - Editorials -

The Euro­pean Union did it­self a dis­ser­vice last month with a de­ci­sion to sus­pend eight of the 35 “chap­ters” of Turkey’s ac­ces­sion ne­go­ti­a­tions, the most re­cent in a se­ries of episodes that sug­gest Europe is dis­tanc­ing it­self from Turkey. The Turks have been in­creas­ingly frus­trated by what they per­ceive as a dou­ble stan­dard ap­plied to their coun­try’s mem­ber­ship bid, and pop­u­lar opin­ion in Turkey is turn­ing in­creas­ingly against the process. The suc­cess­ful ac­ces­sion would help so­lid­ify Turkey as a West­ern-ori­ented democ­racy in the Mus­lim world, while a fail­ure would be dam­ag­ing to its re­la­tion­ship with West­ern al­lies and to the Turk­ish repub­lic it­self.

Eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­forms are chal­leng­ing to ac­com­plish in Turkey, but the car­rot of EU ac­ces­sion makes dif­fi­cult re­forms more palat­able and politi- cally fea­si­ble. The EU process also es­tab­lishes a struc­tural frame­work for Turkey’s re­forms, for which the en­try re­quire­ments can be tremen­dously valu­able as a guide. But if the re­quire­ments are set so as to pre­clude Turk­ish mem­ber­ship rather than to en­cour­age and di­rect Turk­ish re­forms, the en­tire process be­comes un­pro­duc­tive — or, at worst, coun­ter­pro­duc­tive by turn­ing Turkey to the East.

The eight “chap­ters” were sus­pended last month be­cause of a dead­lock over the Cyprus is­sue, the decades-old con­flict be­tween eth­nic Turks in the north and Greek Cypri­ots in the south of the is­land. Turkey has re­fused to open its ports to trade with Cyprus, an EU mem­ber that Turkey does not rec­og­nize. The EU, in turn, main­tains an em­bargo on the Turk­ish-oc­cu­pied north­ern part of the di­vided is­land. Re­solv­ing this con­tentious is­sue is com­pli­cated, but it need not cause an im­passe in Turkey’s mem­ber­ship talks. A late pro­posal from Turkey to open two ports to trade with Cyprus for a year had merit, at least in as much as it would have of­fered a one-step-for­ward al­ter­na­tive to the sus­pen­sion of ne­go­ti­a­tions.

Head­ing into an elec­tion year in Turkey adds an­other di­men­sion. For one, the EU shouldn’t ex­pect Turk­ish politi­cians to con­cede much on the is­sues of Cyprus or the Ar­me­nian geno­cide, a dark chap­ter in Turkey’s his­tory that the gov­ern­ment has not re­vis­ited. A re­buff from Europe to some ex­tent re­flects poorly on the rul­ing Jus­tice and De­vel­op­ment Party (AKP), the lead­ing sup­porter of EU ac­ces­sion. The Repub­li­can Peo­ple’s Party (CHP) — AKP’s sole op­po­si­tion in par­lia­ment, and the best con­tender to over­take AKP in 2007 — has op­posed EU ac­ces­sion, con­trary to the po­si­tion its own ide­ol­ogy would seem to dic­tate, largely be­cause of its role as sole par­lia­men­tary mi­nor­ity party and its cho­sen course of re­flex­ive op­po­si­tion to any AKP ini­tia­tive.

When the dust from the ac­ces­sion process set­tles many years down the road, and Turkey has ei­ther joined the EU with full or par­tial mem­ber­ship — or has not joined — an un­de­ni­ably im­por­tant mea­sure of the process will be the ex­tent to which Turkey has con­tin­ued to en­act eco­nomic and po­lit­i­cal re­forms that bring it more in line with its West­ern al­lies than its East­ern neigh­bors. Turkey feels the pull be­tween two poles: a sec­u­lar and demo­cratic Europe and a hos­tile, un­demo­cratic Mid­dle East. The more it ap­pears that Europe is try­ing to close the door to mem­ber­ship, the more likely Turkey will em­brace a more Is­lamist Mid­dle East. This is a strate­gic blun­der that the West should not al­low to hap­pen.

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