Turkey’s accession process to the EU differs from that of the other candidate countries on many regards. The size of Turkey is one of the reasons for it. Its belonging to another culture is another reason.
Turkey is aware of the low support that its accession to the EU enjoys at present. Frequent remarks are made in the EU countries to the effect that Turkey cannot join the EU without fulfilling all criteria. These remarks have to be perceived as a dissimulated form of the negative reaction to Turkey’s accession rather than as the result of a fair assessment, because Turkey has never asked to join the EU without fulfilling all political and economic criteria. One may expect that, as the reforms are carried out with genuine dedication in Turkey mutual trust will be strengthened.
Is Turkey a European country?
The question whether Turkey is a European Country is raised from time to time in various quarters. Turkey applied in 1959 to become a member of the then European Economic Community (EEC). In 1964 an Association Agreement is signed between Turkey and the EEC with the ultimate aim of becoming full member. Turkey applied to join the EU in 1987. This application was made in view of the article 237 of the Treaty of Rome establishing the European Union which provides that “any European Country” may apply to become a member of the (EU). Since Turkey’s application was not rejected on whatsoever ground, it means that Turkey was considered as a European country at that time.
Furthermore, in 1999, Turkey was officially declared as a candidate country. And the accession negotiations have started on 3 October 2005. In one chapter, namely Science and Research, where there is almost no acquis communautaire, the accession negotiations are completed in one day and the chapter is temporarily closed. This has a symbolic importance, because the negotiations in this chapter were opened and closed during the presidency of a country like Austria that is not in favour of Turkey’s accession to the EU. Austria has to be commended for its professional attitude because it was able to separate its national position on this subject and its authority stemming from the presidency of the EU.
Furthermore the application of Morocco to become a member of the EU was rejected outright on the grounds that this country was not in Europe.
Those who challenge Turkey’s being part to of Europe on the geographical ground, tend to forget that Cyprus, which is beyond Turkey, is regarded as a European country and has now become a member of the EU.
Turkey regards the EU as a Union of values rather than as a Union based on geographical parameters.
Possible contributions of Turkey’s membership to the EU
An exhaustive list of the possible contribution that Turkey could make to the EU will exceed the purpose of this article. Therefore I will confine my remarks to some of them:
EU as a global actor: Turkey’s membership will help strengthen the EU’s role as a global actor. In a television interview before the December 2004 EU summit, President Jacques Chirac of France said that “if the EU will be confined to a free trade area, it could do this without Turkey, but if it contemplates to play a global role, it will need Turkey”. I do not want to interpret this statement as if the EU could not assume a global role without cooperating with Turkey. However, I may say without undue modesty that it could achieve this role more easily, with lesser human and financial resources and with lesser acrimony in case it does it by cooperating with Turkey. A recent experience is significant in this regard: Two years after the Turkish parliament turned down a motion submitted by the government to allow the US troops to cross the Turkish territory in order to open a second front in the north of Iraq, the US Defence Secretary said that “if Turkey were to allow the US troops to cross Turkish territory, the insurgency in Iraq would not have strengthened to this extent”. At that time the cooperation with Turkey was going to serve the US interests. In the future, a vested interest of the EU may be at stake in the region. Turkey’s contribution may serve this time these vested interests of the EU, but only if Turkey is not alienated beforehand.
Energy: Turkey is progressing steadily in its way to become a major energy hub in the region. It is located on the access roads to two basins that supply oil and gas to the EU countries, namely the Middle East and the Caspian Sea basins. Two pipelines from Northern Iraqi town of Kirkuk carry 1.5 million barrels of crude oil per day to the Turkish Mediterranean costal town of Iskenderun. Another pipeline, inaugurated recently, carries 1 million barrels per day of the Caspian Sea oil to the Turkish Mediterranean port of Ceyhan.
A parallel gas pipeline between Bakou and Turkish city of Erzurum is nearing completion and will be inaugurated before the end of 2006. It will carry to Turkey 16 billion cubic meters natural gas per year (bcum/y) from the Shahdeniz basin in the Caspian Sea. The official framework is agreed to link to this pipeline the Kazakh and Turkman gas across the Caspian Sea. Another pipeline carries 3.5 bcum/y. from Iran to Erzurum. A pipeline called “Blue Stream” carries 16 bcum/y. natural gas from the Russian Federation to the Turkish Black Sea city of Samsun. A pipeline that will carry Egyptian gas through Turkey to the EU countries is under construction. It has already reached Jordan.
The natural gas that reaches Turkey trough these pipelines will be pumped to the EU countries trough various pipelines. One of them is under construction. It will carry gas from Turkey, trough Greece, to Italy. Greece will initially buy 700 million cum/y and this quantity will increase to 3 bcum/y. Italy will receive 9 to 12 bcum/y. The “Nabucco” pipeline will carry 23-31 bcum/y gas from Turkey through Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary to Austria. The pipeline was named after G. Verdi’s famous opera Nabucco because the agreement to construct it was signed one day after the initiators watched the performance in the Vienna Opera House. The Verdi’s opera tells the Biblical story of the expulsion of Jews from Babylonia in Iraq, Middle East. The pipeline will carry natural gas from the Middle East to Austria.
Turkey could become a good partner in the field of energy without joining the EU as well, but membership to EU will make Turkey’s colossal energy infrastructure part of the internal market of the EU and will contribute to European energy supply security.
Rapprochement: Turkey’s membership will contribute to the rapprochement between the West and the East and will help extend modern values to the regions neighbouring Turkey. Couldn’t these values be extended without going through Turkey? They could, but Turkey’s case will constitute a living example that these values could be embraced in a country with predominantly Muslim population.
Co-existance of cultures: Turkey’s membership in the European Union will be a symbol of harmonious co-existence of cultures, and enriching the spiritual fabric of the European Union. Because of this characteristic of Turkey, Prime Minister Erdogan is invited to become co-Chairman of an initiative called the “Dialogue of Civilisations” under the auspices of the UN Secretary General.
Common Foreign and Security Policy: Once Turkey becomes a member of the EU, it will be able to contribute much more to the Common Foreign and Security Policy. Turkey is part and parcel of the defence structures of the West since 1952 and it is the second biggest contributor to NATO after the US in terms of number of soldiers. It contributed soldiers to almost all of the military operations of the EU in various parts of the world. In Afghanistan it assumed the leadership of the NATO forces on two occasions. It is participating substantially in the operations in Lebanon.
Size of economy: Turkey is the sixteenth biggest economy in the world. Therefore, Turkey’s accession will increase the economic size of the EU.
Aging population: Turkey’s young population will help alleviate the problem of aging population in the EU countries. A survey published by a think tank called “Friends of Europe” points out that “ in the future, the EU countries will have to encourage more migration from Turkey rather than limit it”.
Is there a reform fatigue in Turkey?
The present ruling party in Turkey, the AK Parti, announced in its government program that it regards Turkey’s accession to the EU as the most important modernization project after the proclamation of the republic in early 1920s.
The ruling party is blamed for having fallen into the reform fatigue. Some observers explain this as a reaction to continuous snubbing of Turkey by the EU for reasons that has very little to with the accession process. Some others attribute the reason of the fatigue to the disillusionment of ruling party that they characterize as a “moderate Islamist party”. They say that the party was disillusioned when the European Court of Human rights and some member countries distanced themselves from the right of ladies to wear scarf in public areas, because initially the party had hoped that the question of wearing scarf would be solved once Turkey joins the EU.
Is there really a reform fatigue in the first place? Actually it is true that the reforms are not carried out with the same speed as before the date of 17 December 2004 EU Summit where it was decided to start accession negotiations with Turkey. But could this be characterized, as a “reform fatigue” is another question.
Before the 2004 EU summit the reforms were carried out at a higher speed. That is true. However, there was a valid reason for it: Turkey had to reach the critical mass that was a precondition for the start of accession negotiations. Therefore, several routine laws were put on the back burner in the legislative process in order to make room for the EU reform laws. Once the critical mass was reached, it was natural to take up the postponed routine activities. This was most probably the most important reason for what is perceived as a reform fatigue in some EU countries or EU bodies. In fact, when the postponed legislative acts were again put into the pipeline, the government brought the reforms promised to the EU back to the head of the political agenda. What was called in Turkey the ninth reform package was the result of this rearrangement of the priorities. The ninth reform package is put into pipeline before the parliamentary summer recess of 2006. After the summer recess, the ruling party took action to convene the parliament even before its ordinary resumption date of 1 October. By this initiative, the government was aiming at passing a few more reform laws so that the EU Commission could put more positive elements in its Progress Report on Turkey that was due to come out at the end of October. The Commission has now postponed the publishing date of the report to 8 of November 2006.
The second reason for what is called the reform fatigue may be the following: Turkey’s efforts in implementing reforms were colossal. Former Commissioner in charge of enlargement Mr. Verheugen used to say that “Turkey achieved in the last 18 months (between 2003-2005) more reforms than in last 80 years”. Such a speed is almost inconceivable in any other EU member or candidate country and no other country succeeded to achieve that many reforms in such a short time. It is not easy to sustain such a speed for a prolonged period, because the law enforcement officers, the judiciary and the people need time to digest or internalise these reforms before new ones are put into force.
One may even wonder whether it is fair to urge Turkey to continue with the initial speed. I am not trying to justify the slowness, but many laws that are required from Turkey need not be passed before the start of the negotiations under a given chapter. To say the least, they will have to be passed before that chapter is closed temporarily or even later, when Turkey will become full member of the EU. In many cases, the EU Commission introduced benchmarks because a number of laws had to be already in place before the start of the negotiations. In such cases, this shortfall was easily made up for when Turkey produced a road map that indicated the dates by which it will pass the laws in question.
Was the ruling party disillusioned on the question of headscarf? This may be true to a certain extent, because the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights do not give the impression that there is a logical continuity. This impression may be due to the expectation that it may have created by earlier verdicts on similar issues. However a linkage cannot be easily established between this subject and the speed of the reforms. The ruling party in Turkey tries its best in order to find a solution to the protracted problem of headscarf, but without singling it out among so many other problems of Turkey. According to the results of the public opinion polls, the Turkish public opinion ranks the headscarf issue as 10th or 11th in priority. Employment, security, education, EU accession, Cyprus, municipal reforms seem to be regarded by the Turkish public as more important issues than the headscarf. It is not reasonable to presume that a disillusionment caused because of such a low priority issue pushed Turkey to fall into a fatigue.
Is AK Parti an islamist party?
The Justice and Development Party (AK Parti) identifies itself as a conservative democratic party with no single reference in its program to Islam or to any other religion. It is equidistant to all religions and to atheism. It is the produce of the secular regime of Turkey. Before the parliamentarians assume their parliamentary mandate, they take oath by stating that they will remain faithful to the secular principles of the republic. A pious believer has to remain faithful to the oath that he takes “in the name of his sacred values”.
The historical background of the establishment of the party indicates also that, since the beginning, it tried to seat the party on a different ground than the religion: When the Refah (Welfare) and later Fazilet (Virtue) parties which identified themselves as “islamist” were dissolved in late 1990s, a group of parliamentarians that called themselves “reformists” were gathered under the leadership of Mr. Abdullah Gül, the present Minister of Foreign Affairs. The others remained faithful to their origins and established another party, the Saadet (Felicity) party, but still claiming that they remain attached to their Islamic principles. When the reformist movement decided to transform itself into a political party, the leaders of this movement carried out several surveys to determine the expectations of the voters. 46 % of the interviewees were not happy with the existing political parties and were looking forward for the emergence of a political party that would take care of their expectations.
The reformist movement was faced with two choices: one of them was to try to embrace the second half of the dissolved party. The power basis of the dissolved party was around 13 % at the time of its dissolution. If we suppose that the party was split into two equal parts, the new party was going to obtain around 6.5 % of the votes. Actually, when Mr. Gül put his candidacy for the post of the chairman of the party before the dissolution, he lost the election with a small margin. This is an indication that the party was split to two more or less equal parts. Those among the grassroots of the dissolved parties who wanted to remain faithful to their conservative Islamic principles had now their own party, the Saadet party. The reformist movement could hardly compete with Saadet to lure the conservative grassroots. Therefore, if the reformist movement were to stick to its Islamic references, the best chance of it was to get the vote of the remaining 6.5 % of the entire votes.
The leaders of the reformist movement discarded therefore this choice and turned to embrace 46 % of the voters who were looking for a new political party. They decided to embrace this group with the exception of extremists both at the right and left. When the reformist movement transformed itself into a political party, namely AK Parti, it seated the new party at the right of the centre and it drafted the programme of the party in a manner to appeal to this power basis. Actually it gained 34 % of the votes in the general elections that were held 15 months after its establishment. There remains a group of 12% of the voters whose support could not be attracted by AK Parti. These votes may have gone to a host of splinter parties throughout the political spectrum.
Is Turkey treated on equal footing?
Several criteria raised for Turkey during the accession process, were raised in the case of other candidate countries at much later stages. In certain cases they were raised as late as the time of their full accession. More difficult to understand is that some criteria that Turkey was urged to fulfil before a date to start accession negotiations was given, were not raised for some other countries even after they became full members. For instance, Turkey was asked to pass a law to give prevalence to the provisions of the international conventions to which Turkey is a party in case these provisions contradict the domestic legislation of Turkey. There are at present full member countries where the domestic laws prevail in case they contradict international conventions.
When the Turkish public opinion becomes aware of such double standards, there is a growing resentment in Turkey to support the EU accession.
The role of the military establishment in Turkey
One of the subjects that comes up when Turkey’s accession to the EU is discussed is the role of the army in Turkey. In various EU documents there are direct references to this subject. It says that the role of the military in Turkey should be brought to the same level as in the EU countries. This means that the role of the military has to be reduced in Turkey. I will not claim that Turkey has its own specific conditions, because every country has its specific conditions. However, I will try to discuss here various aspects of the questions without implying that Turkey is a special case.
There are two dilemmas that will determine the role of the army in Turkey. One of them concerns the army. The military establishment in Turkey has always been a forerunner of the modernization efforts in Turkey. Very first reforms in the Ottoman era were introduced in the military fields as early as the beginning of the 19th century. The new republic was established, in early 1920s, by a former Ottoman military leader Kemal Ataturk in cooperation with a parliament where the most powerful figures were also former military leaders, comrades in arms of Kemal Ataturk though all in civilian cloths. They considered the army as the most appropriate guardian of the new republic and of the secular regime. In fact, the reactions to the secular regime in early years of the republican era were repressed by the army. Without the intervention of the army it would have been difficult to put them down.
The Turkish army is composed of people who receive a high quality professional training in their field. I do not make this comparison with the armies of other countries, but with other classes of public service in Turkey. I do not believe that the military establishment in Turkey will be opposed to Turkey’s accession to the EU on the grounds that this will diminish their role in Turkey or that they are in favour of Turkey’s entry on condition that they will maintain their present role. This does not mean that, in the Turkish army, there is nobody having such wishful thinking. You may find such people in all sectors of the society including the military and civilian, but in an institution as disciplined as the Turkish army, the official position of the establishment can only be expressed by the authorized officers. Any statement that contradicts this official position has to be regarded as a personal opinion. I do not remember any authorized military person having said that the military establishment is not in favour of Turkey’s joining the EU or that it is in favour on condition that the role of the military has to be maintained as it is today. This does not seem logical to me, because no reasonable person will think that a country could join the EU on its own terms.
An institution that has been a forerunner of the modernization efforts of the Turkish society for centuries, cannot afford to be perceived today as the only remaining obstacle in Turkey’s path to join the EU. It cannot explain this to the public opinion and to its own staff. Therefore, the army will have to find a way to combine its historical mission and the requirements of modern times.
The second dilemma concerns the EU. We know that the EU attaches great importance to the preservation of the secular regime in Turkey. Among the reasons that make Turkey different from the other countries with predominantly Muslim population is its secular regime. There is a growing tendency in Turkey that favours the primacy of the civilian authority over the army. However, the army is still regarded by many as one of the most trusted guardians of the secular regime. Whether the guardianship of the secular principles of the regime should be entrusted to one single institution is another question, but the fact in Turkey is that the people regards the Turkish army as a trustworthy guardian of the secularism. The EU has demonstrated in various manners its interest in the preservation of the secular regime in Turkey. There may not be a common position on this subject in the EU. Some EU countries may not be prepared to turn to the army even when the secular principles of the republic are threatened. The principle of the non-interference of the army in the civilian affairs may have a higher priority for them than the protection of the secular regime. They may insist that the regime has to be protected by the civilian authority and not by the army. Other EU countries may give priority the protection of the secular regime rather the principle of the non-interference of the army in the civilian affairs. This is the dilemma of the EU.
As a result of these paradigms, we may presume that the role of the army in the Turkish society will be shaped according to a balance that will be established between these two dilemmas.
The EU asks Turkey to place the army under the command of the civilian authority. One may claim that the army is already under the civilian command since the present legislation provides that the Chief of the Joint Staff has to report to the Prime Minister. However the EU is more specific and asks Turkey to place the Chief of the Joint Staff under the Minister of Defence.
This question is wrongly portrayed a part of Turkey’s accession process. In reality it is not, because, before 1960, at a time when there was no question of joining the EU, the Chief of the Joint Staff was reporting to the Minister of Defence. So, with no prospect of joining the EU, the Chief of the Joint Staff has served for decades under the Minister of Defence. This subject comes up from time to time in the Turkish media in a context unrelated to the accession process and opinion leaders in Turkey say in plain words that the pre-1960 positioning was the right one.
I believe that it becomes more problematic when it is linked to the accession process, because it is presented as a precondition. The Turkish public opinion fails to follow the logic of the EU when it says that the accession negotiations cannot start on irrelevant chapters such as, for instance, on the chapter of public procurements or industrial standards unless Turkey does not place the Chief of the Joint Staff under the Minister of Defence. There is no causal link between these two concepts. If the EU were to say that a country couldn’t join the EU as long as the Chief of Staff is above the Defence Minister, it becomes an entirely different issue, because Turkey did not ask to join the EU with the Chief of Staff above the Minister of Defence. What it says is that there is no logic in raising the question of the position of the Chief of the Joint Staff as a pre-condition at this early stage for the start of negotiations under a given chapter. This criteria could be fulfilled when the time comes for Turkey to become full member of the EU.
But I will discuss another aspect of the question. Even if the Chief of the Joint Staff is placed under the Minister of Defence, the game will not be over. Because the role that the army plays in the Turkish society does not stem from the position of the Chief of the Joint Staff in the hierarchy of the Ministry of Defence. It stems from two different sources. These are two features closely linked to the image of the army in the Turkish society.
One of them is the quality of their training. The military schools are better equipped than the civilian schools. This high quality is valid for the secondary education and graduate as well as post-graduate levels.
The rules governing the appointments of the military personnel are based more on the merit system than in many other comparable institutions. Their rotation in the service is designed in a way to allow them to benefit from various experiences. They are given a chance to serve both in very desolate regions of Turkey as well as in international assignments as the Military Attache at the Turkish Embassies abroad and the NATO assignments in various NATO headquarters.
Many middle and high-ranking Turkish officers have post-graduate degrees from British and American universities. They speak at least one foreign language at a satisfactory level. As a result of these and other factors the Turkish army has a distinguished place in the Turkish public service. Better-trained people distinguish themselves in whatever task they assume.
The army will remain a distinguished part of the Turkish State machinery whether you place the Chief of the Joint Staff under the Minister of Defence or under the Prime Minister and its contribution to the public service will be of a better quality than the other public institutions.
Secondly the Turkish people turn to the military establishment whenever something goes wrong in the society. This is a fact whether you agree that it is the right thing to do or not. This again has nothing to do with the place of the Chief of the Joint Staff in the hierarchy of the Ministry of Defence. Wherever you put him, one portion of the man in the street will continue to turn to the army in crucial moments. In other words, you may change in the legislation the role to be played by the army in the Turkish society, but the place that it occupies in the mind of the Turkish people will be determined by other factors.
Is a train clash likely in Turkish-EU relations?
This question pre-supposes a conflictual situation in the Turkish-EU relations, while Turkey is eager to conduct the accession negotiations not like two parties of a dispute but like two future partners.
There are two major issues that are not yet entirely sorted out. One is the signing of the Additional protocol or, put in more plain words, the opining of Turkish harbours and airport to the Greek Cypriot ships and aircraft. The second is the removal from the Penal Code of the remaining restrictions to the freedom of expression. The pressure that comes on this subject from the Turkish public opinion or from the opinion leaders is most probably stronger than the pressure that comes from the EU. The recent law adopted in the French National Assembly criminalizing the denial of the Armenian genocide provided an excellent excuse to those who are in favour of restricting to the freedom of expression. They will be right when they claim that the EU should first put pressure on its own members before asking it turns to the future members to improve their legislation. However I believe that the Turkish government will not use the wrong example of France to restrict the freedom of expression and that it will find a way to meet the requirements of both the Turkish public opinion and the EU. Therefore I do not think that a train clash is likely because of the question of the freedom of speech.
Regarding the other issue, the Cyprus problem, many EU officials believe and say it loudly that if Turkey does not open its harbours to the Greek ships, the accession negotiations may be exposed to risks. The perception in the Turkish public opinion differs very much from this attitude: Many people in Turkey genuinely believe that Cyprus should not be an issue in Turkey’s accession process. It is a bilateral issue and it has to be solved between the Turkish Cypriots and the Greek Cypriots. There is widespread perception in Turkey that the EU committed a mistake by admitting the Greek Cypriots before Cyprus problem was solved. Now it wants Turkey to pay the price. The man in the street in Turkey believes that, if the EU has the political will to admit Turkey, it can twist the arm of the Greek Cypriots. A Union of 450 million inhabitants will not let itself to be taken hostage by a country of 600 000 people. If, on the other hand, the EU has not political will to admit Turkey, it will not admit even if Turkey gives away Cyprus in exchange of nothing.
This simplistic approach does not take into account the intricacies of the way the Union functions. The member countries have the right to block a decision that they do not like.
I believe that Turkey should not get entangled in these minute details. It should look forward. It should try to do the most of what is available and feasible. It should not lose sight of the forest while looking at trees. Turkey should use the accession process to improve its human rights record. It should eliminate the obstacles that prevent a transparent market economy. If at the end, Turkey’s accession to the EU does not materialize for one reason or the other, it will cash in all reforms that it would achieve by that time.
Turkey is aware of its obligation to open its harbours to the Greek Cypriot ships. This obligation stems from the 1964 Association Agreement and the 1995 Customs Union Agreement between Turkey and the EU. However the EU has also an obligation to implement. The UN Secretary General drafted a Plan for the solution of the Cyprus problem. This Plan, which was also supported by the EU, was submitted to simultaneous referenda in the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus and the Greek Cypriot part of the island on 24 April 2004.
The Turkish Cypriots voted in favour of the Plan and the Greek Cypriots voted against it. Despite this, the EU admitted the side that refused a solution supported by the EU and left out the Turkish Cypriots who voted in favour of the solution. The European Council adopted a decision on 26 April 2004, that is to say 2 days after the referendum, to alleviate the economic embargo imposed on the Turkish Cypriots by the Greek Cypriots.
Five days after this decision, the Greek Cypriots joined the EU and blocked the implementation of the decision. According to the EU rules, a newly joining country has the obligation to adopt all of the acquis communautaire that was accumulated until its accession. Therefore, lifting the embargo imposed on the Turkish Cypriots is a contractual obligation for the Greek Cypriots as well as for the remaining 24 member countries of the EU.
With a view to unblocking the deadlock, the Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs proposed an action plan on January 2006. The gist of the plan is to open Turkish harbours to the Greek Cypriot ships at the same time as the lifting of all restrictions imposed on the Turkish Cypriots. I understand that the EU could not accept this balanced proposal again because of the Greek Cypriot veto.
The Finnish Presidency is trying to find acceptable solution for both sides. Since nothing is put on paper, I do not know all details of the proposals, but the government says that it is open to all suggestions. I therefore do not believe that a train crash is likely in the Turkish-EU relations as long as the EU does not want this to happen.
Turkey has to solve the Cyprus problem with or without the EU accession process. It should not get entangled in details. It should not lose sight of the big target which is the modernisation of the Turkish society and it should use the EU accession process to achieve this goal.