Turkey and Europe: The Way Ahead

Posted in Europe | 20-Aug-07 | Source: International Crisis Group

Istanbul/Brussels, 17 August 2007: The pro-EU AK Party’s landslide victory in parliamentary elections in July has given Turkey and Europe a new chance to get the country’s EU accession process back on track.

Turkey and Europe: The Way Ahead,* the latest report from the International Crisis Group, examines the country’s EU prospects, which have floundered since 2005 because of an impasse over Cyprus, EU enlargement fatigue and Europeans’ wariness of Turkey’s relative poverty and democratic shortcomings. Returning to power with a strong mandate, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan now has an excellent opportunity to launch further bold reforms to rejuvenate the accession process. The EU must respond with strategic vision and leadership, not simply short-sighted to-do lists.

“Almost all sides in Europe share the goals of Turkey’s reformers”, says Hugh Pope, Crisis Group Senior Analyst. “They have to realise that the tone and outlook of the relationship with Europe will determine at what speed the country’s modernisation continues”.

By treaty, history, institutional engagement, security orientation and ideological ambition, Turkey is a European country. Since 1963, and especially since the mid-1990s, it has used the prospect of EU accession as its primary motivational tool for modernising reforms. There is no need for Europeans to fear the membership goal. All in Turkey acknowledge the country is not yet ready. Membership is a decade away, at least. European negativity underestimates the transformative potential of the reform process, which is strongly driven by Ankara’s membership target.

Unfortunately, prejudices from the past, events in Iraq, bad timing in Cyprus and misreading of intentions have driven a wedge between the West and its long-time ally, the most successful secular democracy in the Islamic world. Turkish public support for membership has shifted from overwhelmingly positive to sceptical, and a new nationalism has arisen in which anti-EU slogans merge with anti-American ones. Politicians on both sides have irresponsibly attacked the EU-Turkey relationship as a populist proxy for domestic worries about immigration, welfare or national security.

The way forward is, on the Turkish side, for Prime Minister Erdogan to use his new mandate to implement a bold program for further reform, capturing Europe’s imagination with some sweeping new moves, like repeal or overhaul of the notorious Penal Code Article 301. On the European side, it is a matter of full, serious, and continuing engagement in the accession process, and not excluding the prospect of Turkey’s ultimate membership if there is full compliance with EU norms.

“Europe will lose Turkey as a long-term strategic partner if it closes down the accession process”, says Sabine Freizer, Director of Crisis Group’s Europe Program. “The EU can only gain from extending a hand to the new government to help Turkey regain its Europeanising momentum”.

Contacts: Andrew Stroehlein (Brussels) 32 (0) 2 541 1635
Kimberly Abbott (Washington) 1 202 785 1601

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*Read the full Crisis Group report on our website: http://www.crisisgroup.org

The International Crisis Group (Crisis Group) is an independent, non-profit, non-governmental organisation covering over 50 crisis-affected countries and territories across four continents, working through field-based analysis and high-level advocacy to prevent and resolve deadly conflict.