Sunday, August 3, 2008

Goodbye Gül, Hello Erdoğan-Babacan . . . Goodbye Europe?

Now that AKP has been saved, relations of the party with Europe become a very important point of consideration for the party and Turkey's future . . .

With Gül now president and more excluded from AKP's ruling structure, many observers have noted that his aggressively pro-Europe foreign policy stance has been replaced by a much more antagonistic attitude toward the European Union. When Euro-phile Gül was foreign minister, rhetoric toward the EU was largely conciliatory. However, with the rhetoric of the Erdoğan-controlled Ali Babacan, Turkey has continually injured its chances at eventual EU membership by continually choosing to focus on the EU's alleged discriminatory treatment toward Turkey.

Often iterated are accusations that the EU holds Turkey to different standards than it held its new Eastern European members and that EU politicians are constantly seeking to undermine Turkey's membership status by attempting to draw it into accepting an offer less than full membership. While there is some warrant to these charges, they focus only on those EU politicians who are against Turkish membership and, in fact, play directly into these Turkophobes' hands. If Nicolas Sarkozy wants ammunition to use against Turkey's application, Erdoğan and Babacan have certainly given him plenty.

Instead of focusing on meeting the requirements of the EU acquis, Erdoğan and Babacan have instead antagonized Europe and even made accusations that European demands are constantly and unfairly changing. However, all one has to do to realize that this is indeed not the case is to take the time to actually sit down and read the annual progress reports coming from the European Commission. The demands have not changed, and much to the shame of both politicians, little has been done to meet the conditions of the acquis since Turkey was granted accession status in 2005. Consequently, while the reports sound remarkably the same, what is present is a growing tone of frustration.

If AKP is serious about membership, the goal is best served by focusing on meeting EU demands rather than criticizing the EU. While much of this criticism is directed toward politicians like Sarkozy, such diplomatic moves make it more difficult for pro-Turkey EU politicians, many of whom are in the EU Commission, to respond effectively to their anti-Turkey cohorts. Rather than being constructive, Turkish criticism of the EU gives Turkish diplomacy a semblance of childishness and detracts attention away from the real work to be done. When this criticism is added atop Turkish refusal to implement an agreement to implement the agreement it signed to open up its ports to Cyprus in accordance with the Customs Union, many Europeans are growing increasingly perturbed.

Instead of worrying about Sarkozy, Turkey is best served by focusing on the European Commission and the acquis, the real fulcrum on which Turkey's membership rests. Surely Erdoğan and Babacan know this, and their reluctance to move forward with the EU accession process in any real and meaningful way casts doubt on their true intentions. Unfortunately, like the growing Erdoğan-led authoritarianism that has come to shape the AKP with Gül out of the picture, the prime minister's control over foreign policy is also a cause for concern.

As I have repeatedly argued, the best thing for Turkey to do at this point in the game is to appoint a full-time representative to the European Union instead of having Babacan balance this tremendous responsibility along with a foreign policy portfolio that is growing and, as Gareth Jenkins writes, seems increasingly out-of-focus. Inşallah, Turkey will do the right thing by those who are hopeful that Turkey will again vigorously pursue EU membership.

From Gareth Jenkins at the Eurasia Daily Monitor:
From July 15 to 18 more than 200 Turkish diplomats, including 103 of the country’s ambassadors and heads of missions serving in different countries around the world, met in Ankara to discuss Turkey’s short and long-term foreign policy goals.

The unprecedented gathering of virtually all of the high-level personnel from the Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) was the brainchild of Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan, who described it as providing “a setting for a focused exchange of views and consultation” in order “to make coordination between the headquarters and our missions abroad more efficient and productive” (Turkish Ministry of Foreign Affairs website,

Since he succeeded Abdullah Gul as foreign minister in August 2007, Babacan has often appeared out of his depth. He has also frequently been upstaged by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan. In Gul’s absence, Erdogan has assumed a much more active role in foreign policy, retaining tight personal control over what he regards as important foreign policy initiatives and meetings and only trusting Babacan to assume complete responsibility for relatively minor issues.

As a result, the four-day conference in Ankara was probably designed as much to assert Babacan’s authority as to improve the coordination of the country’s foreign policy. Nevertheless, both Babacan’s opening address and the 19-paragraph statement released at the end of the conference underlined what appears to be an continuing shift in Turkey’s foreign policy priorities since the Justice and Development Party (AKP) first took office in November 2002.

. . . .

Perhaps more revealingly, Babacan insisted that the EU was solely responsible for Turkey’s stalled EU accession process. “Turkey should not be subjected to discrimination and different treatment in this process,” he said. “The messages coming from EU countries on the subject of Turkey’s membership should be of a consistent and encouraging nature” (

In contrast, Babacan absolved the AKP of any blame for problems in relations with the EU. “There is no deviation from our full membership goal,” he said. “Turkey will do what falls upon it and will continue with its reforms. There has not been the slightest change in the determination of our government in this respect” (

Few would deny that the EU is partly to blame for the slow pace of Turkey’s accession negotiations, particularly given the reservations about Turkish membership expressed by key member states such as France and Germany. However, Babacan’s claim that there has been no change in the AKP’s determination to fulfill the criteria for EU membership is contradicted by the contrast between the battery of democratizing reforms passed before Turkey opened accession negotiations in October 2005 and the virtual absence of any since. Nor has Turkey yet fulfilled a 2005 agreement to open its ports and airports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes; a failure Babacan has repeatedly defended on the grounds that the EU only asked Turkey to sign the agreement not to implement it.

In this context, Babacan’s glittering vision of Turkey as a global power threatens not only diplomatic overreach but also the diversion of time and energy from more pressing concerns. It is impossible to argue that in the short or medium-term, Africa and Latin America have more to offer Turkey than EU membership. Nor is there any disputing the disparity between the enthusiasm with which Turkey has recently been cultivating closer ties with Africa and Latin America and its manifest failure to take any steps to restart the stalled EU accession process.

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