Sunday, February 21, 2010

Putting Turkey Back of European Tracks

In an interview with, EU Chief Negotiator Egeman Bagis said the most significant accomplishment in the course of EU-Turkey relations was "putting the Turkey train on EU tracks." Bagis was referring to the start of accession negotiations, which despite some positive developments in the past year, are still progressing at a precariously slow pace. While landing the accession partnership with the EU was no doubt a monumental acheivement, navigating the international and domestic waters of Turkey's accession politics is also no easy task, especially at a time when skepticism abounds in Turkey and Europe. With most of the 23 remaining chapters of the EU acquis left to be opened, the Turkey-EU relationship is still in stormy waters, and with it, Turkey's reform efforts.

Yet, one encouraging sign cannot be discounted: France and Germany, two of the EU's most infuential member states, have ceased talking about extending a "privileged partnership" to Turkey in lieu of full membership. While accession negotiations are still defined as "open-ended," with no guarantee or right to eventual membership, it seems for the moment at least that both countries, as International Crisis Group (ICG) analyst Hugh Pope puts it, are "now aware of the long-term damage this has done to their own commercial interests, the EU’s stature on its southeastern flank and Turkey’s own reform program."

Signs of Moving Forward

For the past few years, including before European Parliament elections last summer, conservative politicians in France and Germany both used populist anti-Turkey rhetoric to attract voters (on this point, see former EU Enlargement Commissioner Maxime Verheugen's denunciation). Returning from France in October, President Gul declared the "privileged partnership" talk to be over, a statement repeated by Bagis in January. EU plans to offer Turkey something less than full EU membership, whether it be the half-cooked "privileged partnership" proposal or membership in French President Nicolas Sarkozy's Mediterranean Union, have long drawn scorn from Turkish politicians and worked against the reform process by putting Turks on the defensive and de-mobilizing optimism/support for eventual membership.

Other positive developments on the European side of the equation include the success of the Lisbon Treaty, which, while granted will take the EU awhile yet to get used to, puts to rest questions about the EU project that had to be sorted out before further enlargement. Though Lisbon did not do much to amend enlargement procedures (individual member states can still veto the entry of candidate countries), it does allow the EU to focus more fully on its future borders. Croatia is well on its way to acceding, and the accession of Iceland following its financial demise should be accomplished without too many hitches. Macedonia, despite problems with Greece, is making headway as well, and plans lie in wait for Serbia, which applied for membership in December, as well as for Albania and Montenegro. While a country with a population of 70 million plus is indubitably a much bigger swallow, Turkey's move eastward should provide momentum in the coming years as the former Ottoman-controlled Balkans unite with more "Western" counterparts. Another possible candidate is newly independent, predominantly Muslim Kosovo, which along with Albania, will get Europeans thinking about cultural/religious identity issues -- what it means to be "European" -- in ways hopefully more sophisticated than these grand level questions have been approached in the past.

While there are still plenty of Turkey-skeptic politicians in the wings, the shift on "privileged partnership," including German Chancellor Angela Merkel's long-standing promise to judge Turkey on its mertis at the time it accedes, should only put Turkish citizens and politicians more at ease. Another skeptic who has pulled back is recently elected EU Council President Herman Van Rompuy, whose past opposition to Turkish membership drew harsh criticism from Ankara. Van Rompuy has promised to act responsibly, honoring past commitments while not using his position to politicize Turkish accession. Additionally, Turkey has a friend in EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fuele, who has wholeheartedly expressed his desire to see Turkey become a member, playing up the geostrategic significance to Europe of eventual Turkish membership. Fuele will no doubt have a problem selling enlargement at a time when Europe is in recession and still coping with the recent additions of Bulgaria and Romania, but his determination to move forward on Turkey in the post-Lisbon EU should be read as an encouraging sign.

In Turkey, though disenchantment with the EU still rings loudly, the beginning of 2009 saw the government finally move forward with its National Program for the Adoption of the Acquis (NPAA). The draft of the NPAA was released in August 2008, following an aggravating six-month wait after the February 2008 adoption of the EU's Accession Partnership Document (APD). As ICG's 2008 report observes,"in some ways it was already two years late, since no previous National Program was issued after the previous Accession Partnership in January 2006." That Turkey is now even has an up to date NPAA is welcome news, though there are shortcomings.

In addition to the NPAA, the government finally appointed an EU Chief Negotiator in January 2009, a move long requested by Europe, as well as bolstered the staff working on EU-related issues. To further reignite its EU bid, the government also appointed Brussels-experienced diplomat Volkan Bozkir as the Secretary-General for EU Affairs. And, further kicking off 2009 was a January trip to Brussels by Prime Minister Erdogan, who had not visited the European capital since the association agreement was signed. CHP opposition leader Deniz Baykal, whose party has frequently placed itself in opposition to any AKP-led reform regardless of its impact on Turkey's accession, also visited Brussels in February (see Feb. 11, 2009 post).

Other positive signs included the signing of an inter-governmental agreement on the Nabucco pipeline, as well as on the domestic front, a strategy for judicial reform and another to fight corruption. The government's Kurdish initiative and rapprochement with Armenia have also helped the EU process along (despite the shaky ground on which both now stand). With Spain at the helm of the EU Council Presidency, and possibly two more chapters to be opened, the next few months also look promising as long as Turkey moves forward, which it might be all the more inclined to do now that it is facing another possible closure case thanks in part to past foot-dragging on judicial and political parties reform.

Ambivalence on the Turkish Side

However, despite progress made in 2009, Turkish public support and optimism about eventual membership are at a continued lull. The standoff on Cyprus, which led the EU Council to block eight policy chapters in 2006 and France to block four more (five in total, but one overlaps; Cyprus is informally blocking others), as well as the talk of "privileged partnership" and anti-Turkey talk in Europe, have taken its toll. The most recent EU Parliament resolution on the 2009 Progress Report will not help either, nor will nationalist politicians' spouts of anti-EU talk or the constant grumbling in Turkey about meeting "EU demands."

The most recent Transatlantic Trends Survey, a project of the German Marshall Fund, put support for membership at 48 percent, down from 73 percent in 2004. According to the same survey, 65 percent of Turks polled thought European membership impossible, and perhaps most disturbingly, only 34 percent identified themselves as sharing common values with the West. The EU Commision's Eurobarometer puts the percentage of Turks in favor of membership at similary low levels -- 45 percent; another poll by Angus Reid has the percentage in favor only slightly higher. These numbers are concretely reflected in the Turkish public's lack of interest in the 2009 Progress Report. The report's November release garnered little attention among Turkish opinion leaders, who in past years often discussed the report on Turkish television and in newspapers. However, even with the pressure on before the EU Summit this December and the possibility of more difficulties arising from the Cyprus problem, including the suspension of negotiations, few seemed to care.

While Europe might be said to be experiencing "enlargement fatigue," Turkey is suffering from a bad case of "Europe fatigue," or at least serious second thoughts facilitated by a sense of "not being wanted." What Turks perceive to be moaning in Europe and constant scolding by European officials -- too often played up in the Turkish media -- has created a response among several Turks with whom I have talked that Turkey can and should "go it alone." Some of this is sheer pride, and it is no doubt helped along by fears, largely coaxed along by rumors, that Turkey will have to do this or that to meet "EU demands." Thinking of the accession process in terms of "demands" made by a foreign power rather than "criteria" that must be voluntarily met in order to gain membership into an intergovernmental organization badly damages the accession process in a country whose politics are prone to paranoia (for more on this, see April 11, 2008 post on Turkey's "Sevres syndrome"). Rather, the "demands"-oriented thinking injures Turkish confidence and gives rise to a sense of hurt and defensiveness, which frequently manifests itself in countering EU criticisms with arguments about Turkey's worth, oft replete with strong undertones of nationalism and even xenophobia.

The most commonly expressed criticism of the EU from Turks, be it from more secularist or non-separationist in how they approach the state's relationship with Islam, is that Europe does not want a Muslim country in its borders. This feeling is no doubt stoked by the recent EU decision to extend the Schengen zone, and thus visa-free travel, to Macedonians, Montegrins, and most controversially, Serbians, which are predominantly Christian, but not to Kosovars, Bosnians, Albanians, or Turks. The EU decision prompted a sharp response from Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu, and plenty of criticism in the Turkish press -- in short, it was talked about much more than the Progress Report.

Ambivalence on the European Side

Though European ambivalence and skepticism should improve as Germany and France pull away from the "privileged partnership" discourse, support for Turkish membership in Europe is still very low (the same Transatlantic Trends Survey put the percentage of Europeans who thought Turkish membership would work in the EU's favor at 19 percent). Former EU Enlargement Commisioner Olli Rehn, who is supportive of Turkish membership, explained the opposition in an interview with EurActiv in November 2008:
One view that is quit strong in France and Germany is there should be no further widening without deepening. I have held many discussions in France both in the National Assembly and with the civil society, likewise in Germany, and the view there is that we do not rule out a Turkish accession but first the EU should be deepened.

I feel a certain sympathy for the view that widening and deepening should go hand in hand and I understand the logic but I don’t think those two approaches are contradictory. In fact, widening and deepening are rather parallel and mutually-reinforcing processes. Both of them have made the EU what it is today - much stronger and more effective than let’s say 20 years ago.

A second main concern is cultural and religious resistance, which is more difficult and for which I do not feel so much sympathy because the EU is not a Christian Club. Rather it is a community of common values, democracy, the rule of law, fundamental freedoms. If a country meets those conditions, it should be able to join the EU – if it is a European country and it has a European vocation.

Thirdly, there are concerns related to employment and the labour market, which are often linked to immigration. For instance in France, the Turkish EU accession is seen through the lens of certain problems related to the integration of the Muslim minority - if you can call 5 or 6 million people a minority, out of whom only a small portion are actually Turks.
The French fears have resulted in French leaders continued stress on concerns about Turkey being a transit country for illegal immigrants. Indeed, these same phobias have elicted discussion of possible derogations on labor and immigration issues that would be attached to eventual Turkish membership. Focusing on France, Turkey also won few friends when it was less than supportive about France's re-entry into NATO earlier last year, and won an enemy in previously supportive French Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner when it moved to oppose the eventual election of Danish Prime Minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen as NATO's Secretary-General. Yet, it is not all bad news. Sarkozy's now infamous 2007 declaration that Turkey was not part of Europe, but of "Asia Minor," might have boosted his support among entrenched Turkey skeptics in France at the time, but there are now indications that the French president's rather asinine geography lesson energized the French left and helped consolidate support for Turkish membership, in fact because of Sarkozy's opposition. According to Pope,

although President Sarkozy may not have changed his own mind, his politicisation of Turkey’s EU membership during his election victory in 2007 has unexpectedly mobilised Turkey’s supporters in France. Left-wing newspapers now debate the merits of the country, whereas a decade ago they mainly picked apart Turkey’s then poor human rights record.

French businesses, anxious about what politician Pierre Lellouche early on thought was the loss of five billion euros worth of business, helped finance an ongoing nine months of 400 Turkish cultural events in 70 French cities. These plays, debates and shows -- including lighting up the Eiffel Tower in the red-and-white of the Turkish flag -- have probably done more to showcase Turkey than decades of diplomatic toil.
The German opposition is a bit different. Merkel, unlike Sarkozy, had promised previously to not directly prevent Turkey from gaining membership, and so refrained from blocking chapters as France did in 2007 (though the latter used Cyprus as the pretext). Yet, Merkel has made her opposition known all the same, and if the Christian Democrats do happen to still be in power at the time a final decision on Turkey is made, there will likely be difficulties. Germany continues to stress that accession negotiations with Turkey are open-ended, and that there is no right to or guarantee of membership, emphasizing that Turkey has stict obligations to meet the Copenhagen Criteria and reconcile its laws with the EU acquis (for example, see German EMP Elmar Brok's remarks in 2008 in response). While Germany's über-conservative Christian Social Union party remains publicly committed to "privileged partnership" (see, for example, CSU's criticsm of German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle's recent trip to Turkey), the CDU-CSU-FDP coalition agreement in effect since German elections in September makes no reference to it. Beneficial to Turkey's relations with Germany is strong trade between the two countries, as well as Germany's contibution of 17 percent to Turkey's foreign direct investment. There are also 1.2 million perople in Germany who enjoy dual German-Turkish citizenship.

Turkish and European proponents have plenty of work ahead of them if accession is to progress in the difficult times ahead, and it is clear that leadership and dialogue is what is needed most of all. European supporters of accession point to the fact that no enlargement has succeeded by looking only to popular opinion, putting emphasis on the time, work, and leadership that make enlargements successful. Swedish President Carl Bildt, who held the EU Council Presidency last term, expressed this opinion in the European Parliament's debates on enlargement last November.
We are all aware that there are those in our respective public opinions that would prefer to just shut the door to all of them [candidates seeking EU membership], hoping that the issue would go away, and opt for a far more closed idea of Europe. I belong to those who are convinced that this would be a mistake of historic proportions -- the consequences of which would haunt our Europe for a very long time to come.
Bildt echoed similar sentiments in an interview with Nigar Goksel, saying “the EU project and its important components, ranging from the euro to enlargement, have been the result of political leadership, not the result of a groundswell of love toward each other among different European nations. In fact, very little would have happened in the last 50 years without political leadership.” Here, arguments about the geostrategic importance of Turkey in terms of energy and influence in the Middle East, as well as Turkey-EU relations in terms of NATO, are all influential, and the more European leaders make them, the better.

Linking Turkey's Two Vocations -- Europe and Democracy

Final decisions about the "absorption capacity" of Europe for Turkish membership are a long way coming, but Turkey must do its part, too. While no accession has successfully taken place without European leadership, no accession has taken place without a groundswell of popular support in the acceding country for membership. Spain's accession to the European Union in many ways parallels Turkey in terms of the strong opposition Spain faced from countries fearing it relative economic deprivation and huge agricultural capacity; yet, the Spanish public was strongly supportive of EU membership and democratization following the Franco dictatorship, and success came with persistence. While there is indubitably more opposition to Turkish membership than Spain faced in the early 1980s, Turkey must overcome some of its political dysfunctions if it is to succeed. Nigar Goksel points to what the government might do to push forward in this endeavor.
While the EU process loses momentum, the agenda in Turkey has been consumed with clashing concepts of citizenship, competing patronage networks, colliding dogmatic visions, and culture wars. Loopholes in the constitutional system have allowed these battles to cause systemic deadlocks. The dysfunction in institutional checks and balances has led to a broad feeling of insecurity about the rule of law. By responding to this scene with patronizing and vengeful approaches, the government and its supporters only exacerbate the deficit of confidence and steepen the challenges for the government itself.

For the progressive taboo-breaking initiatives on the agenda to succeed, a concerted effort to reduce the perceived insecurity is called for. As long as the culture of reliance or vulnerability to the good graces of a political power persists, the fierce polarization that prioritizes personal and group interests over Turkey’s long-term interests will continue. The institutional and structural changes that the EU track will impose can curb this culture. However, rhetoric also matters. For the government to convince a critical mass about its commitment to its declared goals, rhetoric about freedoms and pluralism needs to be consistent across the ruling party’s ranks and across the range of issues on the agenda.
Rather than convince Turks of the benefits of EU membership for Turkey or sell its democratic values or culture to Europe, Turkey's government remains squarely focused on the technical aspects of accession, namely the EU chapters, and is frequently confrontational toward EU opponents. Neither is helpful. Essentially, the government has two jobs, both difficult: 1) sell Europe in Turkey, which is largely a rhetorical and public information effort, and 2) sell Turkey in Europe, which is a matter not only of satifying the EU acquis, but continuing to consolidate its democracy and pass reforms respecting human rights.

Selling Europe in Turkey

In regard to the first, building public support for accession would not only bolster the accession process, but also reforms the government would like to see passed -- and, now, with judicial reform all the more exigent, desperately need to be passed. Support for reforms as a function of EU membership is the lynchpin is critical to their realization. According to TESEV's Dilek Kurban, "For the people, Europe means a prosperous future. It is the only thing to inspire hope, to motivate people for change. This process is the only thing that holds the country together, Turks and Kurds, Muslims and others. If you lose it, what you’ll see is a disintegrating country." Even if one does not agree with the potential fallout Kurban identifies, most Turkish leaders would have a hard time denying the role the EU has in mobilizing reform, the motor the EU prospect provides when challenging the status quo and the powers that be. The entire reform process between 1999 and 2005, in addition to the meager reforms thereafter, were all largely driven by the EU, and the fact is hard to escape. EU reform is linked to accession, and when accession comes unglued, so does reform. This is one reason so many observers who know how determined the AKP is to pass reform on civil-military affairs and the judiciary have grown skeptical that the AKP is still in the pro-Europe camp.

Euroskeptics are not the only forces to blame for Turkey's low public morale for accession. Turkey's leaders must also own up, and do something about it as well -- otherwise, the alliance of the skeptics, and those who do not want to see Turkey in Europe, will win.

Selling Turkey in Europe

The government's constant confrontation with Turcoskeptics in Europe has done little to build support for accession in Europe, nor has it weakened the skeptics. Though frustration is understandable, countering Turcoskepticism is best left to European leaders supportive of Turkey. Prime Minister Erdogan's calling out of a smirking Greek Cypriot politician at a lunch in Brussels did nothing to win Turkey friends or damage the credibility of the likely less than credible Greek Cypriot. For another example of less than helpful behavior, see Erdogan's remarks during a dinner he hosted for the diplomatic corps in Sept. 2008, during which the Prime Minister declared, "Forget about drawing water form this well. [The EU has] got the bucket so stuck in the bottom of the well, it'll be a miracle to get it out at all." Rather than attack Euroskeptics, or in the latter case, Europe as a whole, if the government is serious about accession, it must focus on the reform process and selling the democratic values it shares with the EU. To this extent, rather than paying attention only to opening acquis chapters, the government should draw on the synergy of the accession and reform processes, enthusiasically embrace Copenhagen, and move forward with broad-based democratic reform, including a new civilian constitution. Even if chapters are not opened, there is nothing to prevent the government from working on reforms in anticipation, nor in using the EU anchor for leverage in so doing.

In an interview to Today's Zaman, Spanish Ambassador to Turkey Joan Clos referenced his own country's accession.
In the Spanish accession process, when we talked about interests and strategy, we never succeeded in the argument. We never moved the hearts of the Europeans when we said we were close to the Strait of Gibraltar, were very important for Europe or when we said our agriculture was very important and we had the largest area of farmland.

. . . .

But when we talked with our European fellows and said, ‘Look, we want to be in the EU because we want to stabilize our democracy forever,’ this was something understood by every European citizen on the street. To give weight only to strategic and business reasons for European accession is purely an argument of interests. To put emphasis on values is a much deeper emotional question. There are countries which have geo-strategic value and position apart from Turkey, but the kind of democracy that you have reached with the republic and that you are trying to improve through governmental and everybody’s efforts makes the difference for Turkey in relation to your neighborhood. This should be the main driving force. Democratic Europe cannot lose a growing democracy in this part of the world. If you ask a German, Frenchman or Spaniard, ‘Do you want to help Turkey to be a European-like democracy with our values or not?’ the answer would be yes. This is more important than oil or agriculture.
Yet, Turkish politicans rarely, if ever, makes such arguments, choosing rather to focus on geopolitics, energy, and Turkey's economic weight and satisfaction of the economic/financial Maastricht criteria. (In a EurActiv interview with Bagis, the EU Chief Negotiator is keen to talk about Maastricht, but defensive on Copenhagen. The latter has to be broached by the interviewer, while the former is volunteered.) While it is obviously easier to talk about geopolitical significance and past achievements than shortcomings and future reforms, it is the latter that is badly needed. Several Turks, including Turkish politicians, often say "reform is for Turkey," which is all fine and well, but does little to unite Turkey's democratic vocation with its European vocation. When the two are united, both seem to benefit; when they are not, neither seems to go very far.

The Final Decision

Assuming Turkey can avoid a full-out confrontation with the European Council over Cyprus, which still hangs around its neck and provides ample ammunition and room for maneuvering to its detractors in Europe, a final decision on Turkish membership is still a long ways off. While this might be frustrating to some extent, it should also take the pressure off and encourage Turkish politicans to focus on reforms rather than criticisms of Europe. Sarkozy, nor Merkel, are likely to not be in power by the time a decision can actually be made, and though Austria and France have both expressed intentions to put Turkish membership to referendum, to talk about the European politics on Turkish accession now is more than premature given the rapidly changing dynamics of the region, and just as importantly, the more democratic, human rights-oriented Turkey could be if its politicians keep their eyes on the ball.

Turkish Ambassador to Germany Ahmet Acet urges European politicians to focus on the Turkey of the next 10 years, but the same applies to the government and the opposition. And, while the new government line recognizes that the final decision is a long ways off, it should also stress, as Clos instructs, the Turkey's passion for democracy and Europe, best evinced by the reforms to be hopefully realized in those next ten years. Turkey's entrance into the European Union would not only assist in the consolidation of Turkish democracy, but would also assuage the fears of AKP-opposition forces and skeptics who claim the AKP does not actually want European membership and is rather using the accession process to further its own "secret" political agenda. Since the vast majority of Turks want democratic reform, which the government also claims to want, tieing reform to the accession process is not only politically useful in this historically Westward-looking country, long-defined by a love-hate relationship with the West, but symbolically potent.

With few chapters left to open, Turkey must maintain a reasonable amount of momentum, and Copenhagen and Maastricht are both answers. To this extent, President Gul's comments that Turkey might choose to go the way of Norway are not particularly helpful, as they do little to unite Turkey's two vocations, which the AKP, as well as the opposition parties, all outwardly espouse. Rather, Europe, largely hesitant about Turkey's political turbulence and ambivalent relationship toward democracy and the West, needs to be convinced Turkey wants Europe and democracy. The government, and the opposition, can do better. Time will tell.

No comments: