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Turkey And EU At Crossroads – Analysis 31 janvier 2015

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Eurasia Review, Saturday, January 31, 2015

By Nathalie Tocci *

Since the turn of the century, Turkey has been accepted as a candidate for European Union membership. But after the opening of accession negotiations in 2005, the momentum in Turkey’s EU accession process was lost. Turkey’s accession negotiations proceeded at a snail’s pace in their early years and were stalled altogether between 2010 and 2013. By mid-2014 a mere 14 out of 35 chapters had been opened and only one chapter (science and research) was provisionally closed. Multiple vetoes by the European Council, France and the Republic of Cyprus have meant that most chapters of the acquis communautaire up for negotiation are frozen and that no chapter can be provisionally closed.

For all candidates before Turkey, the accession process has always and only culminated in full EU membership. Yet in Turkey’s case, the path to membership has been fraught with roadblocks and hurdles, making the final destination uncertain at best. Notable in this respect is the programme which Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker presented to the European Parliament in July 2014: « under my Presidency of the Commission, ongoing negotiations will continue, and notably the Western Balkans will need to keep a European perspective, but no further enlargement will take place over the next five years ». On Turkey, the Commission president did not utter one word.

A pessimistic snapshot of the EU-Turkey relationship today points towards a future of progressive estrangement and competition if not outright conflict between Turkey and the EU, in which at some point in a not so distant future the accession process would be abandoned altogether. At the same time, a longer-term and more dynamic assessment of the relationship would caution against excessive pessimism, pointing to the depth and longevity of the relationship and its cyclical ups and downs over the decades. There have been low points at various moments in the past, but these were repeatedly overcome thanks to wisdom, vision and the appreciation of shared interests and values between the two sides. Turkey and the EU today stand at a crossroads.

Rather than speculating on the direction of EU-Turkey relations in the future, let me simply emphasize why reinvigorating Turkey’s accession process is possible today. Over the last year and a half, there have been a number of timid signs of a possible new beginning between Turkey and the EU. French President Hollande’s greater openness towards Turkey and the foreign policy rapprochement between the countries, the absence of any reference to a privileged partnership by the Christian Democrat-Social Democrat coalition government in Germany, then Prime Minister Erdogan’s visit to Brussels in January 2014, the agreement between Turkey and the EU on readmission and a visa liberalisation dialogue, and the revamping of the EU agenda in Ahmet Davutoglu’s government all point to a growing desire within both Turkey and the EU to put the relationship on a healthier footing.

True, not all signals point in the same direction. The growing centralization of powers in President Erdogan’s hands, the weakening rule of law and erosion of rights and freedoms in Turkey, including gender equality, the EU’s persistent navel-gazing and economic sclerosis, the foundering peace process in Cyprus, and the broader turmoil in the Middle East are certainly not encouraging signs. And yet read through a different lens, all these negative trends explicitly represent a reason why the EU-Turkey accession process should be revamped. Precisely because of the negative trends on course, Turkey’s EU anchor is as important as ever. At the time of writing, the hope and expectation is that the Italian presidency of the EU, a long-time supporter of Turkey’s EU membership, would be able to conclude its semester by opening at least one chapter in Turkey’s accession negotiations.

In the turbulent times we are living in, a stable, democratic and prosperous Turkey is ever more in the vital interest of the European Union and Turkey itself. Turkey must resume its democratization and reverse its political shortcomings. In this context, re-launching a credible accession process can buttress Turkey’s efforts to cure its internal rifts and accelerate political reform. It can also support Turkey in pursuing the necessary economic reforms to avert crisis and progress along the path of economic development. And it can maximize the full potential of cooperation between the EU and Turkey on strategic questions such as energy and foreign policy, particularly in the neighbourhood. Turkey and the EU stand at a crossroads today. Let us all work so as to ensure that the right path is taken.

This article was first published in Analist Monthly Journal’s January issue, 2015. The post Turkey And EU At Crossroads – Analysis appeared first on Eurasia Review.

* Nathalie Tocci is Deputy Director of the Istituto Affari Internazionali

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