|Opinion Paper: It is not easy to be optimistic about Turkey’s EU prospects in the immediate aftermath of both Nicolas Sarkozy’s election victory in France and the political climate in Turkey in the wake of the presidential election debacle. But looking past the pessimism, Abdullah Akyuz muses about the future — and imagines how Turkey will join the EU||
|Brussels, Belgium, January 1, 2014 — Turkey’s membership was celebrated by thousands gathered in Sultanahmet and Taksim squares in Istanbul last night. The lively crowds were chanting songs and waving EU flags.
Both squares were decorated with Turkish and EU flags and pictures of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey — in addition to hundreds of signs of various colors, sizes and messages.
Symbolic Saint Sophie
The most significant message was a neon spot placed on a suspended sign between the two minarets of the Saint Sophie (Aya Sofya), which read, “WELCOME EU.”
The Saint Sophie, which was originally built as a church by a Byzantine emperor, then transformed into a mosque following the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks in 1453 with the addition of four minarets — and finally converted into a museum in 1935 — has a special significance for this particular occasion.
Nothing could better symbolize the union of the EU and Turkey than this historical place of worship that united Christianity and Islam centuries ago.
Joining the EU has not been easy for any country, as the privilege of becoming a club member required compliance with strict economic and political requirements set by the EU’s existing members.
Turkey’s European journey turned out to be significantly bumpier than others because of its religion, size and history. Turkey has made remarkable progress on all fronts since the EU’s decision declaring Turkey’s candidacy for full membership in 1999, due mostly to the impetus provided by the start of negotiations.
Turkey’s achievements vis-à-vis improving its democracy, the removal of practical barriers against its minorities, both ethnic and religious, as well as
One of the most impressive achievements has been the substantial increase in per capita income recorded as a result of the continuous high growth rates Turkey's economy has enjoyed over the last ten years.
As of the end of 2013, Turkey’s per capita GDP reached $20,200, slightly above 50% of the EU average, which stands at $39,500 as of September 2013. With Turkey joining, the EU is now the second-largest economic bloc after NAFTA, with a population of over 570 million.
Turkey, as the 30th member of the EU following the accession of Croatia and Macedonia last year, has not been granted some of the benefits enjoyed by the countries previously admitted to the union.
The two most significant ones are related to the free movement of labor and agricultural subsidies. Turkish workers, except those trained in fields determined by each member country, will not be granted free movement until 2021. Thereafter, the restriction will be gradually lifted because aging populations in most EU countries will increase the EU’s need for Turkish labor.
Acording to EU officials, Turkey’s progress in areas such as agricultural subsidies, environmental adjustment policies, measures against the informal economy and furthering of
The EU membership has evidently relieved the tension in Turkish society, and assured Turks that their two most sensitive concerns — namely separatism and Islamist fundamentalism, are going to be better addressed with their country’s membership in the EU.
For a long time, many euro-skeptic Turks had argued that the EU’s aim was to divide the country and let the Islamists control it. Also, the long-lasting “identity” issue — whether Turkey is western or eastern/Muslim — appears to be resolved, at least for the time being.
Observers believe that the remaining cynicism will fade away as Turkey is further integrated with the EU. Such a consensus could not have been reached in the absence of the constructive and engaging attitudes of the new generation of European politicians, who were scarce until very recently.
Turkey’s membership had been in grave doubt almost a decade ago following the rejection in 2005 of the new European constitution by France and the Netherlands, two of the EU’s founding members.
In addition to the uncertainty created by this rejection, the coming to power of Angela Merkel in Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy in France had cast doubts over Turkey’s European aspirations.
Both leaders had advocated for a “privileged partnership” with Turkey. However, the substance of the proposed partnership had never been made public, and was widely viewed as a tactical move to derail Turkey’s membership.
So what caused European skeptics to change their minds in the last four to five years? For the answer, one has to focus on the changing positions of various groups holding divergent views on Turkey’s membership.
Those who were not in principle against Turkey’s membership but opposed to the timing of the accession because of the EU’s own difficulties — as well as Turkey’s shortcomings in democracy and economic prosperity — were convinced by the remarkable progress made by the respective Turkish governments.
Reforms and economic growth
The lag observed in the implementation of the already-passed reforms had been overcome following the Turkish elections in the summer of 2007. Also, the additional reforms required to consolidate the freedom of speech,
On the EU front, the changes made to streamline the EU’s decision-making process have been essential in preparing the ground for the continuation of the enlargement, and thus, Turkey’s integration with the EU.
Turkey's economic progress made it the EU-29's second-largest foreign trade partner, after the United States. Turkey’s high growth rates — and increasing trade with the EU — resulted in sizable growth and job creation in several European countries.
Turkish job creation
Turkey’s contribution to new jobs throughout Europe weakened the arguments of those groups objecting to Turkish membership on the grounds that it would steal jobs from Europe. Also, the reverse migration of Turks living mainly in Germany back to their homeland as Turkey advanced toward full membership helped to refute one of the fundamental arguments of the anti-Turkey lobby.
The European business associations that had quietly supported Turkey’s accession on economic grounds were pleased with this progress and started publicly and aggressively supporting Turkey’s membership.
Middle East dialogue
As for those leaders and groups who were against Turkey’s accession on primarily religious and cultural grounds, they eventually realized that without
In this regard, the spread of terrorist activities throughout the western world has been a major warning sign for the EU, which long ignored the seriousness of the issue unless it was directly targeted.
In addition, the electoral victories of social democrat, liberal and green parties in several European countries towards the end of the decade led accession to become a public priority.
Turkey makes a stronger EU
Also, the EU’s quest for a more active role in global politics changed the perception of Turkey among some political leaders — particularly Christian Democrats — from “a troubled country in a problematic region” to “a pivotal partner in a crucial region.”
Moreover, the increasing influence of Russia on the global political scene, the continuing impasse in the Israel-Palestine conflict, the fear of a nuclear Iran as well as the never-ending struggles in Iraq, Lebanon and Afghanistan all made Turkey once more an indispensable partner in the eyes of Europeans.
Fear of Russia
Another aspect that was crucial in this process was the desire to reduce the EU’s reliance
The construction of the Trans-Caspian gas pipeline, which carries Turkmen, Kazakh and Azeri gas, has made Turkey an important energy hub — as has a vital pipeline carrying Iranian gas.
The subsequent initiation of pipeline projects, such as Nabucco and others aimed at transporting this natural gas to European markets, has gradually and surely convinced numerous European governments that Turkey is the only country that can help Europe reduce its dependence on Russia.
Moreover, Turkey's increasingly important diplomatic and economic role in bringing stability to the Middle East and the Caucasus, together with the water resources it controls, have accentuated Turkey's potential to bring about much-needed regional stability.
Turkey’s membership to the EU has been greeted with much enthusiasm in the Muslim world. The process was closely watched by millions of Muslims around the globe — particularly in Europe, since Turkey’s membership was perceived as a litmus test for the continent.
Despite earlier disappointments, the EU has been able to deliver a historic decision that will have global implications for many decades to come. Turkey’s membership was equally welcomed in the Caucasus and Central Asia, as they now consider themselves strongly and permanently linked to the West through Turkey’s formal inclusion into
The United States, the staunch supporter of Turkey’s membership to the EU, has applauded this historic event. Successive U.S. administrations had constantly pressed the EU to include Turkey, regardless of some voices that raised concerns over losing Turkey to Europeans, thereby diminishing the United States' leverage over the country.
Russia, Iran and the oppressive regimes of the Middle East appear to be the only losers. These countries and their leaders have attempted to downplay Turkey’s success by asserting that Turkey was offered a second-class membership.
European political maneuvering?
The euro-skeptics in Turkey continue to claim that the EU, once again, has acted purely in its own interests. The increasing influence of Russia and China, the threats posed by a nuclear Iran and the dangers of a shaky Middle East have all led the Europeans to change their minds — as has the hope to benefit from Turkey's alternative energy sources.
According to them, this is a maneuver parallel to taking Turkey into NATO after World War II to exploit it as a buffer against the Soviet Union. The same circles blame the EU for letting down Turkey on several instances when Turkey needed the EU the most. They underline that Turkey is going to be a second-class member because it will not benefit from the free circulation of labor for at least seven years.
Despite skeptics, a stronger EU
Moreover, they add, the per capita financial assistance provided to Turkey will be considerably lower than that extended to previously added countries. Similarly, the nationalist and conservative groups in many
Most of the blame is directed at the green and social democrat leaders of Germany and France, respectively. Some even question the tacit support extended by Pope Benedict XVI for Turkey’s inclusion in the wake of his historic trip to Turkey in 2006.
The EU today, with Turkey as a full member, is clearly a more powerful, dynamic and peaceful union capable of coping with the challenges of the 21st century. It’s now a brighter lighthouse shining as a beacon throughout North Africa, the Middle East and Central Asia.
Pride in accomplishments
The EU ought not to shy away from demonstrating its soft power to its immediate neighborhood. Doing so brings peace and prosperity to a broader region — and raises hopes for a brighter future all around the globe.
The EU has made a historic decision by confirming Turkey’s full membership. Yet, the determination of the Turkish people and the efforts of their respective governments to overcome the insurmountable obstacles throughout the accession process deserve the most praise.
|Posted by Euromed Admin|