This article was published in Arab news on October 7, 2018.
Where does Turkey stand in its EU accession process?
Turkey has taken several steps to revitalize the EU accession process. One of them was the convening two months ago of the Reform Monitoring Group after an interval of four years. The group is composed of Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu, Treasury and Finance Minister Berat Albayrak, Justice Minister Abdulhamit Gul and Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu.
But the statements they made after the meeting were too general, not specifying which areas the reforms will cover. Cavusoglu said efforts will focus on areas where concrete conclusions can be obtained. “Reforms have always been a priority for the government, whether Turkey ultimately joins the EU or not,” he added. None of the ministers explained why these reforms have not been implemented yet.
One specific area where a tangible progress may be achieved is the agreement on Syrian refugees and visa facilitation for Turks. During negotiations two and a half years ago between Turkey and the EU to stem the flow of refugees, the bloc promised to extend visa facilitation to Turkey if the latter fulfils the remaining seven out of 72 criteria that Ankara had promised to implement for progress in accession talks.
They include adjustment to EU standards of Turkey’s anti-terror legislation, protecting personal data, the signing of a cooperation agreement with the bloc’s law-enforcement agency Europol, fighting corruption, cooperation on crime-related matters, and issuing new biometric passports with chips. Fulfilling these criteria has been postponed so many times that it would be a pleasant surprise if they were fulfilled at all.
The biggest difficulty for Turkey is adjusting its anti-terror legislation to EU standards. The adjustment has to take into account the verdicts of the European Court of Human Rights and the principle of proportionality. Turkey told the EU that it is prepared to pass a law providing that “the thoughts that remain within the limits of journalism and that are expressed for the sake of criticism will not be punishable.”
The biggest difficulty for Turkey when it comes to revitalizing the EU accession process is the adjustment of its anti-terror legislation to the EU standards.
If mutual trust were to prevail between Turkey and the EU, such a formulation would suffice. But because of past experience, the bloc will probably be more focused on implementation than the law’s content. All seven criteria are important, but if negotiations get bogged down again, it will probably be due to the issue of anti-terror legislation, because Turkey has little room for maneuver in the face of strong terrorist threats in and around the country.
On fighting corruption, Ankara failed to fulfil 20 out of 22 recommendations contained in the Turkey reports of the Group of Countries Against Corruption within the Council of Europe. Another criteria Turkey promised to fulfil was cooperation in crime-related matters.
This cooperation does not function properly, again due to lack of mutual trust. Data pertaining to interrogation and prosecution could not be shared efficiently, and legislation on data security could not be adjusted to EU standards.
Turkey promised to fulfil the remaining criteria. Cavusoglu repeated the promise two months ago after the meeting of the Reform Monitoring Group. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan repeated it last week after his talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Apparently this is easier said than done, so it would be a pleasant surprise if the promise is fulfilled this time.
There are differing expectations regarding the ultimate goal of revitalizing Turkey’s accession process. On the EU side, Turkey’s full membership does not look realistic. The privileged partnership status that Turkey was going to be given changed its name to “strategic partnership.” Whatever the name applied, the result is that the renewed efforts are not aimed at Turkey’s full membership anymore.
The first European leader to oppose Turkey’s full membership was Merkel, who has consistently maintained this position since she was in opposition. France’s then-President Nicolas Sarkozy joined her in 2008, followed by the Netherlands and Austria.
Turkey’s official rhetoric remained committed to full membership, though there was no visible effort in that direction. Erdogan once mentioned the idea of a referendum if the EU has decided not to admit Turkey, but last week in Germany he reiterated Ankara’s resolve to continue the process.
Even though Turkey’s leadership does not consider accession an achievable target, it does not want to assume responsibility for the collapse of the negotiation process. There may be a similar ambivalence on the EU side, which may be unwilling to assume responsibility for pushing Turkey toward other alliances. How long this limbo will last is difficult to tell.