Prospects of the Turkey-EU Relations, lecture delivered at the regular business luncheon of the EU Ambassadors hosted by the Swedish Embassy, Ankara, 17 December 2009


EU Ambassadors luncheon hosted by Swedish Ambassador, Ankara, 17 December 2009

Excellencies, Distinguished colleagues,

 First of all, I would like to express my gratitude to Ambassador Asp for his kind invitation for this luncheon, as the Guest of Honour. It is an honour and a privilege for me. It is also a great pleasure to address such a distinguished gathering and to have an opportunity to discuss recent developments regarding the Turkey-EU relations.

 Turkey-EU relations has entered a highly critical phase. It is not the first time. We have been through critical phases before and, so far, were able to manage. Therefore I am not pessimistic. Yet; I believe that the risks should not be underestimated.

 I would like to divide my address under 5 headings:

 a)      Turkey’s accession process in the aftermath of the last summit;

b)      Cyprus problem

c)      Dissolution of the DTP

d)      Future of the democratic opening

e)      Is Turkey drifting away?

 a) Turkey’s accession process in the aftermath of the last summit

 The EU summit of 10-11 December last week re-affirmed that Turkey did not fulfil its commitment to put into force the Additional Protocol, that is to say it did not open its harbours to the Greek Cypriot ships.

 Turkey’s position on this subject remains unchanged:  It is still waiting for the answer of the EU to the Action Plan of January 2006 by which it proposed to open the harbours simultaneously with the putting into force of the EU Council decision to lift the economic restrictions imposed on the Turkish Cypriots.

After the Greek Cypriot threat, during the last summit, to block the opening of the negotiations of 5 additional chapters, the picture looks as follows:

12 chapters (together with the “Environment”) are open

12 chapters were blocked already in 2006

5 chapters could be blocked now by the Greek Cypriots

10 chapters’ screening reports have not been sent to Turkey. Of these I should like to draw attention to two, namely:

–          Judiciary and Fundamental rights;

–                     Justice, Freedoms and Security

These two areas are the areas where a significant progress has been recorded and important reforms have been accomplished. Most importantly, Turkey emphasizes its strong commitment to continue this process until the EU standards are attained. Yet, negotiations on the chapters related to this area are delayed as Turkey did not receive the screening reports on “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights” and “Justice, Freedom and Security”. In other words, the EU asks Turkey to carry on the reforms, but fails to send in the screening reports to enable it to proceed.

There obviously is a contradiction here. Therefore, Turkey believes the ball is in the EU court.

4 chapters that remain are:

– Social policy and employment;

        – awaits the law on trade unions

– Public Procurements

       – awaits the amendments in the law on public procurements

– Competition policy

    – awaits the law on competition

–  Veterinary and phytosanitary issues including food safety

–  awaits the control of the foot and mouth disease

Turkey believes that it will take some time before these criteria are fulfilled.

In spite of the chapters blocked for reasons not related to the Copenhagen criteria, Turkey is still criticized for being uncooperative or not doing enough. Two of these areas are “Competition” and “Public procurement”. (Bu başlıkların İngilizce isimleri doğru mu?)Turkey is committed to improve the standards in these two areas as well. However it is not realistic to expect that Turkey will do it according to the EU priorities. I believe that the guiding factor will be Turkey’s domestic priorities. One may even speculate that some of the reforms could be achieved only within the framework of a full membership perspective.

b) Cyprus problem

 When I was talking two weeks ego to a very high official from the South Cyprus, I was disappointed of his lack of enthusiasm for the solution of the Cyprus problem, because he was directly involved in the negotiations. However later on I asked myself why should he be enthusiastic, since there was no incentive for him to solve the problem. The admission of the Greek Cypriots to the EU before the problem was solved removed all incentives that could lure them to be flexible.  I don’t think that Turkey will be ready to pay the bill for a mistake committed by the EU.

Mr. Cemil Çiçek who is the highest authority in Cyprus affairs among the Turkish ministers, is very emphatically on the record to say that if Turkey has to chose either Cyprus or the EU, it will chose Cyprus. There is no point to open a debate on whether this is the best course of action. This is the position of the establishment in Turkey and whether you like it or not it will remain so.

            Turkey’s commitment to solve at once the Cyprus problem remains unchanged. However, the solution of this problem should be handled independently from Turkey’s accession process to the EU. The linkage between these two issues makes now lesser sense, after France decided to block the negotiations of 5 chapters. In other words, even if a solution to Cyprus problem is reached, Turkey’s accession process will remain blocked because of the French veto. Therefore, it does not make sense to ask Turkey to make a concession on the Cyprus question for the sake of the accession process.

            There is an asymmetry between the timetables of the two leaders in Cyprus. The President Talat will have limited freedom of action as from the early months of 2010 because of the presidential elections in the Turkish Republic of the Northern Cyprus. While in the South, Mr. Hristofias’s timetable will be shaped with respect to the Greek Cypriot elections of 2013.

             Furthermore, several public opinion polls carried out in the South indicate that, unlike the North, the Greek Cypriots do not want to live together with Turks. The Greek Orthodox church of the South Cyprus is the major driving force behind this attitude. A slim chance may arise in the horizon in case a political leader either in the South Cyprus or in the mainland Greece assumes a role similar to the one played by the Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan in 2004.

             If this chance is missed, I don’t see when such a convenient constellation may arise in the future.

c) Dissolution of the DTP

The dissolution came at a time when Turkey needed it the least. I remember that many politicians from your respective countries used every opportunity to advise the leaders of the DTP to distance themselves from the PKK. The DTP leaders did (or could) not do it. They could not challenge the PKK.

The European Court of Human Rights pointed out in its verdict on the Batasuna case that one of the reasons for the dissolution of the Batasuna was the latter’s refusal to blame the terrorist acts of ETA.

            We have to wait until the publication of the substantiated verdict on the dissolution of  the DTP in order to find out on which grounds the verdict was based.

            No matter what the motives are, Turkey will now have to devote part of its energy to control the consequences of this incident.

d) Future of the democratic opening 

            Many at the leadership level of the AK Party are on the record to underline that the democratic opening initiative of the government will remain unchanged. This will be perhaps the best course of action in light of the possible developments as a result of the dissolution of the DTP.

            The opposition parties in Turkey put pressure on the government to give up the democratic opening initiative, especially after the recent upsurge of violence committed or claimed by the PKK. The government believes that the opening initiative has now become all the more relevant, because the task of isolating the PKK has now become more important. Since the government cannot take a terrorist organisation as an interlocutor, more emphasis on the democratic opening becomes the best alternative.

e) Is Turkey drifting away?

            I don’t have the feeling that Turkey is drifting away. There are several constants that contributed to the shaping of Turkey’s foreign policy. They range from Turkey’s geographical location to its commitment to embrace universal values that are best reflected in the western type of democracies; from history to its ethnic and cultural ties with the countries.

As long as there are no major changes in these constants, Turkey’s foreign policy cannot change dramatically. Changes in style are only natural from one government to another or from one Foreign Minister to another.

At present, Turkey is doing belatedly what it had to do since decades. Turkey is part and parcel of the Balkans, Caucasus, Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. It has close cultural, ethnic and linguistic ties with peoples of the Central Asia.

There are several reasons why Turkey returns to these regions only now:

One of them is due to the Cold War constraints for the most part of the 20th Century. Now that the cold war is over, the regions such as the Balkans, Caucasus and the Central Asia have become more accessible for Turkey.

Second, globalization facilitated Turkey’s return to these regions as an economic player. Turkey in its capacity as the 6th biggest economy in Europe and 17th biggest economy in the world had to project in these regions an economic presence commensurate with its potentials.

Third, the reconstruction efforts in countries of the region beginning with former soviet countries opened huge opportunities to Turkey’s construction sector that ranks among the biggest in the world.

Fourth, Turkey made a major shift from using hard power to soft power in the countries of the region. This has facilitated its return to the region.

One tends to forget from time to time the recent history: Anyone who is today older than 90 years old in the entire Middle East was born as an Ottoman citizen. This observation is valid for countries such as Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Palestine, Israel, Libya, and partly Egypt. And the present population of all of these countries are the children and the grand children of these Ottoman citizens. Ottoman archives of land and population registry are still being used to solve many disputes in these countries. Turkey should not turn a blind eye to the problems of these countries. And Turkey’s interest in the problems of these countries should not be perceived as drifting away from long established foreign policy line of Turkey.

The warm welcome extended to the Turkish leaders when they visit these countries is also meaningful. I will not draw from this the conclusion that Turkey should turn towards East because of this. However, we may presume that a country of the size of Turkey, located in such a strategic geography, will not remain in limbo in case it does not join the EU. The EU leaders were generous enough to point out that in case Turkey is not admitted to the EU it should remain anchored in the western structures. Turkey is grateful for this generous offer. However, without a threatening tone in my voice, I would like to underline that it is only natural that in case Turkey is denied full membership to the EU, it will be the political party that will be in power who will decide where Turkey will be, and not the EU.

Thank you for your attention.

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