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March 13, 2013
Summary: Turkey-EU relations under the Justice and Development (AK Party) have provided a good opportunity to observe the trends in Turkish domestic and foreign policies. Extensive focus on the government’s commitment misses a more relevant question: the changing nature and meaning of EU membership for Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies. As EU talks once again gain visibility, it might be important to revisit two dimensions. First, in the domestic setting, the EU-led reform wave appears to have come to an end. Nonetheless, that the EU anchor is no longer viewed as the sole engine of reforms does not necessarily mark the abandonment of reformist path. Second, while traditionally the EU process was treated the backbone of Turkey’s predominantly Western-oriented foreign policy, in the last decade, it has been reframed as part of Ankara’s quest to redefine its foreign policy on the basis of multi-dimensionality.
Turkey’s New Drive to Reenergize EU Accession: Moving Beyond the Suboptimal Equilibrium?
by Şaban Kardaş
Turkey-EU relations under the Justice and Development (AK Party) have provided a good opportunity to observe the trends in Turkish domestic and foreign policies. Many analyses treat this as a critical test to gauge the value the government places on Turkey’s Western orientation, and whether Turkey belongs to Europe. The government’s repeated reiterations of commitment to the reform process have fallen short of convincing the skeptics, who continuously have pinpointed its role in the current deadlock in accession talks. However, extensive focus on the government’s commitment misses a more relevant question: the changing nature and meaning of EU membership for Turkey’s domestic and foreign policies. As EU talks once again gain visibility, it might be important to revisit these two dimensions. First, in the domestic setting, the EU-led reform wave appears to have come to an end. Nonetheless, that the EU anchor is no longer viewed as the sole engine of reforms does not necessarily mark the abandonment of reformist path. The controversy over Turkey’s reform credentials is largely caused by different interpretations of how they should progress. Simply put, the government plans to proceed with the domestic transformation according to its own schedule and in line with its own assessment of Turkey’s realities, which may or may not correspond to those expected by the pro-EU forces in line with standard Europeanization model. Second, while traditionally the EU process was treated the backbone of Turkey’s predominantly Westernoriented foreign policy, in the last decade, it has been reframed as part of Ankara’s quest to redefine its foreign policy on the basis of multidimensionality. Perceiving a major shift in global economic and political structures, Turkey has been working to initiate closer dialogue with other actors as well as opening to new regions. The relationship with Europe is viewed as one of the various areas in which Turkey’s priorities are placed. More importantly, Turkey hopes the country’s strategic value is factored in the calculations of its membership, along with the Europeanization model of compliance with EU demands. Two recent developments served as stark reminders of this new meaning of the EU. Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan told Russian
OffiCes Washington, DC • Berlin • Paris Brussels • Belgrade • Ankara Bucharest • Warsaw • Tunis
President Vladimir Putin that if Turkey were invited to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, it would no longer wait in the EU’s admission room. Soon afterwards, however, the government started a diplomatic offensive to reenergize the stalled membership process, which proceeded parallel to its new initiative to resolve the Kurdish issue. The government, thus, sought to demonstrate that the EU forms only one dimension of the multidimensional foreign policy agenda and that Turkey controls the timing and pace of the transformation at home. In any case, Ankara appears determined to reenergize the accession process. The first concrete outcome of this new thinking was born, when France decided to lift its veto on regional policy chapter. The Irish presidency also indicated its willingness to open negotiations on at least one chapter during its term. The Turkish government has intensified high level diplomatic dialogue with European actors, as Turkish leaders have been holding talks in different European capitals and in Ankara. German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Ankara reiterated the momentum for revitalizing the process by expressing support for defreezing the negotiations, though she was careful to add her doubts over the end-state of the talks leading to full membership. The anticipated visit of French President François Hollande will be yet another occasion where most probably the determination for opening the negotiations will be reiterated and some concrete steps announced. To assess if these developments might be game changers in the long-stalled membership process, a cursory look at the last few years is warranted. From Reform Wave to Reform Fatigue As the government took office in 2002, it embraced the membership process and initiated several reforms, which earned it praise. In the foreign policy realm as well, as its courageous steps toward the resolution of the Cyprus issue attested, the AK Party valued Turkey’s European orientation. Those policies paid dividends and Turkey secured the start of membership talks in 2005. Since then, however, the pace of the negotiations has been a matter of endless debate, not least because it raised questions about the government’s commitment to Western orientation, hence perpetuating the debate on whether Turkey belonged to Europe. In the reformists’ view, after the start of the accession talks, the
Ankara appears determined to reenergize the accession process.
developments were far less spectacular than the pre-2005 reform wave. On the European side, the main complaint was Turkey’s failure to extend the additional protocol to Cyprus, while Turkey constantly criticized the EU’s unwillingness to end the embargo on Northern Cyprus. The result was the blockade of several chapters by Cyprus. Together with the French veto on several others, the relationship effectively hit a deadlock by 2010, since when no new chapters have been opened. Turkey’s harsh reaction to Cyprus’s assumption of the EU presidency in the second half of 2012 even raised concerns about the collapse of the relationship, but the genuine invention of “positive agenda” and Turkey’s constructive reaction to it ensured that the ties have been sustained. Many liberal reformists and the friends of Turkey in Europe, though acknowledging the EU’s own mistakes, attributed the gradual emergence of a deadlock to the government’s declining reformist credentials and its orientation toward the Middle East in its subsequent terms. After curbing the power of the Turkish army through the EU-inspired reforms, the government, arguably, had less incentive to further liberalize Turkish political system. For instance, Cem Özdemir, the co-chairman of the German Green Party, maintained that, after a period of stagnation in its second term, “in the third term, Turkey is not only waiting and watching, but it is also going backward in some fields.”1 While some liberals referred to a reform fatigue causing a slowdown, others even argued that, freed from the limitations exerted by the EU anchor, the AK Party adopted Turkey’s authoritarian political culture and engaged in illiberal practices as its own. Meanwhile, Turkey appeared more interested in pursuing a regional leadership role in the Middle East than waiting in the EU admission queue. However, the relationship between Turkey’s Middle Eastern orientation and its EU bid is more complicated. Many Western analysts and even top U.S. leaders criticized the European leaders’ shortsightedness. As
1 “Best support we can give is to bring Turkey closer to the EU,” Hurriyet Daily News, February 11, 2013.
U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates openly argued, Turkey was forced to search for its fortunes in the East because some in Europe refused to give it a realistic roadmap. Whatever the reasons for its Eastern involvements, the outbreak of the Arab Spring further pulled Turkey into the Middle East, deflecting its energy away from Europe. Suboptimal Equilibrium as the New Normal Previously, there have been warnings that the stalemate could not be sustained and might deal a fatal blow to EU-Turkey relations altogether. Believing in the benefits of the EU’s convergence with Turkey, many leading European figures have called for restoration of the EU’s credibility by standing firm behind the existing commitments, while urging Turkey to continue comprehensive, consistent, and sustained progress toward democracy to persuade Europeans of its compatibility for membership. For instance, the International Crisis Group called 2009 the make or break year for the membership process. Although President Abdullah Gül announced 2009 would be the EU year and Turkey set up an EU ministry, these moves did not help to reignite the momentum for moving beyond the stalemate. When Erdoğan visited Brussels twice in 2009, he unequivocally put the burden of responsibility on the EU, while European leaders ruled out the delays being caused by the EU’s shortcomings and stressed that Turkey had to take concrete steps to continue reforms. Alarmed by the unfolding deadlock, the chair of the Independent Commission on Turkey, Martti Ahrisaari, even maintained later in 2009 that “the seductive idea that the status quo can go on forever is a delusion. The cost of inaction this time around is too high.” Despite such alarmist calls, the relationship has continued along on the same parameters, giving way to a new normal. With the apparent absence of decisive steps coming from neither side to reenergize membership process, there has emerged a received wisdom that the sides reached an imperfect equilibrium in the stalled membership process. Though the resulting equilibrium was suboptimal, it was still sustainable, as the neither party had incentives to take steps toward breaking the deadlock, and more importantly, they benefited from the status quo. While the widening grip of the economic crisis removed the EU members’ motivation to refocus on Turkish accession, the Turkish government’s regional and domestic priorities occupied its agenda, lessening the urgency of committing to the Europeanization path. Moving Beyond the Current Equilibrium? Turkey’s recent drive to reenergize the EU process reiterates its determination to break the deadlock. The increasing chances for progress in Cyprus following the elections in the South and the continuation of the momentum generated by the positive agenda would possibly mark movement toward a more preferable equilibrium, though it is far from certain that this new cycle will put Turkey on a solid path toward full membership. Granted, the current phase bears importance in many respects. Firstly, Turkey’s sense of self-empowerment seems to be the main driver of new initiatives. Turkey’s relative success in cushioning the effects of the global crisis, the sustained growth of the last decade, and its geopolitical openings in various directions have emboldened Turkish leaders to be more forthcoming in their demands from the EU to observe pacta sunt servanda. As long as Turkey’s current trajectory continues, it will strive to conduct the relations with Europe on its own terms. Second, strategic arguments occupy a large part of Turkish leaders’ EU talk. It has been almost a dictum since the 1990s that if the EU were serious about becoming an important actor on world stage, it needed to include Turkey. Short of progress in membership talks, still, Turkey had been expecting the EU to establish a strategic dialogue with Ankara, but appropriate mechanisms could not be developed. Turkish officials have pointed out several occasions where “a certain member state” blocked their participation in EU institutions’ deliberations on foreign policy issues
Believing in the benefits of the EU’s convergence with Turkey, many leading European figures have called for restoration of the EU’s credibility by standing firm behind the existing commitments.
including the coordination of technical and development assistance to the Middle East and North Africa. Considering the enormous security challenges in the wake of the Arab Spring, not to mention the ever-present energy security considerations, Turkey will want to see that the renewed EU drive at least catalyzes enhanced strategic dialogue unhindered by the problems in the accession process. Third, Turkey focuses on the costs of the stalled EU membership process. Increasingly, Erdoğan and members of his cabinet have been referring to the negative externalities of the deadlock for Turkey’s national interests. More specifically, for instance, they have pointed out how Turkey, through its membership in the customs union, has been incurring costs, especially in terms of the economic and trade relations with the third parties. If the Europeans are serious about moving beyond the stalemate, they will have to be more attentive to Turkey’s sensitivities. Fourthly, there has been a deliberate effort to separate Turkey’s domestic realm from the EU process. Turkish leaders remain convinced that they are doing their part in meeting the requirements of the accession process, as was reflected by the EU ministry’s publication of its own Progress Report. They will continue to press the EU to meet its obligations and be more forthcoming. However, they are less willing to let the domestic transformation evolve around the EU anchor. Turkey will commit to the EU process in line with its new international orientation and work to manage the content and timing of domestic reforms on its own terms. Though this domestically driven agenda may not square with Europeanization model, it might be too hasty to claim that Turkey is drifting in the direction of authoritarianism or becoming self-absorbing. Nor does Ankara’s approach preclude ingenious thinking on the part of EU leaders to develop interim mechanisms to enhance cooperation with Turkey in areas of overlapping interest, especially if they cannot offer solid commitment on full membership. As many leading European figures argue, the EU needs to adjust to the emerging world order, and it might be high time to study how it could be compatible with Turkey’s quest for multi-dimensionality.
About the Author
Dr. Şaban Kardaş works as an associate professor of international relations in the Department of International Relations at TOBB University of Economics and Technology in Ankara.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) strengthens transatlantic cooperation on regional, national, and global challenges and opportunities in the spirit of the Marshall Plan. GMF does this by supporting individuals and institutions working in the transatlantic sphere, by convening leaders and members of the policy and business communities, by contributing research and analysis on transatlantic topics, and by providing exchange opportunities to foster renewed commitment to the transatlantic relationship. In addition, GMF supports a number of initiatives to strengthen democracies. Founded in 1972 as a non-partisan, non-profit organization through a gift from Germany as a permanent memorial to Marshall Plan assistance, GMF maintains a strong presence on both sides of the Atlantic. In addition to its headquarters in Washington, DC, GMF has offices in Berlin, Paris, Brussels, Belgrade, Ankara, Bucharest, Warsaw, and Tunis. GMF also has smaller representations in Bratislava, Turin, and Stockholm.
About the On Turkey Series
GMF’s On Turkey is an ongoing series of analysis briefs about Turkey’s current political situation and its future. GMF provides regular analysis briefs by leading Turkish, European, and American writers and intellectuals, with a focus on dispatches from on-the-ground Turkish observers. To access the latest briefs, please visit our web site at www. gmfus.org/turkey or subscribe to our mailing list at http://database. gmfus.org/reaction.
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