‘Question marks over Turkey’s membership prospects’?

Center for European Studies / Middle East Technical University

In Turkey, the EU strategy document on enlargement was received with disappointment primarily due to the rigid French position on Turkey since Sarkozy assumed power. Turkey’s discontent was a consequence of French politicking which resulted in EU reference to “negotiations” with Turkey rather than to Turkey’s full membership objective and accession negotiations process as was regularly done. Turkish reaction was reflected in an official statement by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and in declarations by various civil society actors, among others, the Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association (TUSİAD).[1] Leaving aside the discontent, the content of the progress report on Turkey was perceived as balanced, one that praised Turkey in its overall assessment despite various criticisms with respect to the speed of reform and implementation processes. As such, the necessity to speed up the reform process is a widely recognised aspect of the Turkey-EU relations and Turkey’s accession process. In this respect, a number of issues were hotly debated in Turkey such as Article 301 of the Penal Code. Article 301 penalizes “insulting Turkishness, the Republic as well as the organs and institutions” and has repeatedly been used to prosecute non-violent opinions expressed by journalists, writers, publishers, academics and human rights activists. The necessity to change the Article was given special emphasis by the opinion leaders, media and political figures. The desire for change also received widespread support from different factions of the society, political as well as economic. Other issues that were widely debated at the political and economic elite level and/or among the wider public in general are issues such as human rights and minority rights, the status of the Orthodox Church, and the Cyprus problem.
 
The uncertainty and ambiguity of messages at the EU as well as at the EU member states level seems to be influencing the public opinion in a negative way. Although Turkey’s commitment to EU membership continues, the enthusiasm in Turkey seems to be losing ground among the public in general. The belief that EU membership is a good thing for Turkey and that Turkey is likely to join the EU is finding less and less public support.[2]
 
Despite the question marks over Turkey’s membership prospects into the EU, the general perception in Turkey has been to support the cooperation and integration of the countries in the Western Balkans (including Serbia given it fulfils its international commitments) with the Euro-Atlantic institutions, especially the EU. The EU is perceived, as the only viable setting that would foster peace, stability, regional cooperation and development given the size and the problems that persist in the countries of the region.
 
Turkey has followed a cautious policy towards the developments in the Balkans, especially with respect to the debates and negotiations over the status of Kosovo. It is widely perceived in Turkey that mismanagement of the Kosovo issue can create a domino effect beyond Western Balkans. Therefore, in Turkey’s bilateral relations with the countries of Western Balkans Turkish officials have emphasised the need to solve the issue in a peaceful manner without creating any confrontations. Turkey has been diplomatically active reiterating its position while hosting Serbian President Boris Tadiç in November 2007, President of the Albanian Parliament Jozefina Topallı Çoba in December 2007, Montenegrin Minister of Foreign Affairs Milan Roçen and Macedonian Minster of Defence Lazar Elenovski in January 2008. The Kosovo issue is also of importance because of the small number of Turkish minority living in Kosovo. The Ahtisaari Plan for Kosovo, though not perceived as the ideal solution, was seen as the only alternative and was also given credit for the framework of minority rights that it envisaged. After the failure of the negotiations for a solution Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has publicly declared that Turkey is positive on Kosovo’s independence.[3] Yet, similar to a number of EU member states Turkey still has concerns that independence of Kosovo might spur separatist movements and policies, especially in relation to the Kurdish problem. Accordingly, officials in Turkey have been careful to emphasise that the two cases have different basis. This was also reiterated in relation to worries of the Greek Cypriot authorities that declared that Kosovo might set a precedent for Northern Cyprus.

 


[1] See Ministry of Foreign Affairs pres release NO: 181 - Press Statement Regarding the Paragraphs on Turkey and EU´s Enlargement Strategy (Unofficial Translation), December 14, 2007, http://www.mfa.gov.tr/MFA/PressInformation/PressReleasesAndStatements/pr... and the TUSİAD Press Release, The French Government Should Cease Its Hostility Against Turkey’s EU, Process, Brussels, December 11, 2007, http://www.tusiad.org/tusiad_cms_eng.nsf/BasinAll/6AFCD4F460E7B45CC22573B5002A4D63/$File/20071211TUSIADPREUCouncil.pdf. For statements and the reaction of various business associations and business(wo)men see Radikal daily, December 13, 2007.

[2] Transatlantic Trends, Key Findings 2007, pp. 10-11, available at: www.transatlantictrends.org.

[3] Zaman daily, January 14, 2008.