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Home » EU - Turkey Relations, International

Turkey and the European Union

Submitted by on 28 Mar 2013 – 16:04

By Takis Hadjigeorgiou MEP

Almost ten years since the launching of Turkey’s membership negotiations, Turkey finds itself somewhat isolated, lacking the support of some member states, which could, if granted, push the country back into the EU’s orbit.

Indeed due to the severe economic crisis that is currently ravaging Europe, a mild suffering of enlargement fatigue might be in place. This feeling is also aggravated by a sense of scepticism by some key European states that are concerned about the new balance that will result with Turkey’s potential admission in the EU (for example, due to its size, Turkey will probably have the biggest political representation in the European Parliament).

Despite this however, I firmly believe that the gates of the European Union have always been open for Turkey. Be that as it may, I dare to argue that the challenge is for Turkey to seize the moment and make the EU a priority again. In doing so, however, it has to change the way it perceives its own size and power. Many a time in the past, I have written that the main problem for Turkey lies in its inability to perceive and manage its size. By this I mean understanding its spatial role in time and in history vis-a-vis its people, its neighbours, the EU and the world overall.

Instead what do we see? On the one hand, we have Ertogan’s attempt to strengthen pluralistic politics and improve human rights and on the other hand, we witness a growing disrespect for human rights, hundreds of journalists imprisoned without a fair trial, free speech violations, and failure to protect women, just to name a few.

Economically, while Turkey’s thriving economy promises a new life to the trailing EU economy, its wealth is unequally spread, thus reinforcing the fear of many Europeans that an army of millions of poor immigrants would march west. Let us not forget that almost half of Turkey’s foreign exports end up in the EU.

Politically we see Turkey not only ignoring Cyprus, a full member of the European Union, calling Cyprus a “half country” and sometimes a “non-country”, but also threatening the country in its attempts to exploit the vast amounts of hydrocarbons discovered in its exclusive economic zone. Refusing to focus on the benefits that can potentially accrue for her (and the European Union) if she chooses to help solve the Cyprus problem and normalize relations with Cyprus, Turkey opts for tension.

Turkey”s stance on this issue shows that it chooses not to see the big picture. Namely, how much of a sensitive issue is the field of energy for the European Union. Let us not forget that in the field of energy the European Union’s (EU) external energy dependence is constantly increasing. More than 80% of the European Union imports in natural gas come from non-EU countries. With the ever increasing demand for energy that pushes the price of energy even higher, and the lack of energy diversification, the EU is faced with a major strategic challenge, namely, to reach the goals of the Energy 2020 roadmap.

It is within this context that the presence and discovery of significant quantities of hydrocarbons in Cyprus’ exclusive economic zone and in the Eastern Mediterranean basin overall, creates and encourages a new discussion on Europe’s energy supply while it simultaneously sets up the stage for a new re-definition of the region’s geostrategic designs.

These new geostrategic designs do not transcend the boundaries of the Republic of Cyprus alone, but those of some other neighbouring countries in the region as well. Specifically, the potential mutual synergies and co-operation that can ensue between the EU and Egypt, Israel and Lebanon regarding the natural gas deposits in the Levantine basin can become the foundation stone for a new era of peace, stability and safety in the area.

Last but not least, Turkey’s managing of the Kurdish issue remains violently anachronistic.

The question then is how does Turkey intend (if it does) to manage these contradictions and show Europe that it means business?

Europe is a community of states based on consensus. Consensus is what binds Europeans together, enabling them to share experiences and plan their future together despite of all the problems and challenges that lie ahead.

A couple of months ago Mr Bagis asked Europe to “hold on because Turkey was coming to its rescue”. He also went on to say, “opening chapters is less important than opening minds”. Indeed, open minds lead to open doors. Turkey needs to free Europe from any misconceptions and scepticism it has about Turkey joining the EU. European governments have turned their backs on Turkey following essentially the many signs and messages received by their people through a series of referenda and polls. Therefore, what Turkey needs today is to find its own ‘locomotive’ that can put the country back into the EU track. Greece and Cyprus can certainly assume this task should Turkey finally decides to solve the Cyprus problem.

Although Turkey now may feel confident of its economic growth to the point that the prospect of its membership in the EU seems less significant, its future lies along that of the EU. We both need each other.

The EU needs partners. Until Turkey proves that it can be a reliable partner, Europe will perhaps continue to be reluctant to open its mind when viewing Turkey.