Turkey and the EU, a difficult relationship

, by Alessio Pisanò

Turkey and the EU, a difficult relationship

As a result of the crackdown on the mass demonstration in Istanbul by the conservative government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan the negotiation for Turkey accession to the EU could be frozen. Germany and the Netherlands expressed strong disappointment for the massive use of police force on demonstrators in Taksim square and therefore are trying to block these negotiations due to start this week in Brussels. Critics say that the German and the Dutch governments are just taking an excuse to stop Turkey to get closer to Europe. It is a fact that Angela Merkel is a longstanding opponent of Turkey entry which is an associate member of the European Union and its predecessors since 1963. Another fact is that Mr Erdogan and his ministers’ reaction to the demonstration and official statements do not help at all.

The first question is: does Turkey need more or less Europe right now? The answer is the massive demonstration by the laic and progressive society that has been taking place in Istanbul for days long: more Europe. The second question is: does Europe need Turkey? In my opinion the answer is still yes (the reasons are coming up in the article). And last but not least, is Turkey ready for Europe and vice versa? This is a very tricky question.

“The EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU”, said defiantly Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s EU minister. “If we have to, we could tell them to get lost”. Some days before Erdogan himself, in response to a common resolution by the European Parliament calling for a stop to the violences in Istanbul, has been quoted saying “Does the European Parliament have the right to adopt such a decision on Turkey? I do not recognize this European Parliament’’. Mr Erdogan has been negotiating for adhesion to the EU since 2005. He should has made up his mind about Europe.

The Turkish Minister is partly right: the EU does need Turkey. The European Union accounts for more than 70 per cent of all foreign direct investments in Turkey and more than 38 per cent of exports. Many EU member states have direct commercial agreements with Ankara and many Europeans do not need any visa to travel in and out the country for business or leisure – such as Italians. Moreover Turkey has a pivotal role in establishing a new a more democratic relationship with the countries in the Middle East both for geographic and historical reasons.

On the other hand, there is no doubts that Turkey needs Europe more than ever. First of all for economic reasons – the accession to the EU internal market of goods and services and the free circulation of capitals and people would boost the Turkish growth, and second for social reasons with a deeper integration with the European neighbors and an improvement of the social and civil standards in the country. The problem is that Turkey, or at least Turkish political elite – the party of Mr Erdogan, Justice and Development Party AKP – seems not be so willing to join the EU and its values. This is exactly why thousands of peaceful demonstrators toke the street on the first days of June, to reject the conservative and Islamic inspired measures implemented lately by the government. In few words, a whole part of the Turkey society is asking for more rights and freedom, in other words for more Europe.

For this reason the treat made by Germany and the Netherlands comes at a very bad moment. Although Ankara does has a problem in fulfilling the requirements to join the EU – all of these must be accomplished to let Turkey in – dismissing the country from the EU may not be a good move right now. A former member of the European Parliament and a specialist on Turkish affairs said the “if Ankara did suspend ties in response to Germany’s block on this chapter, outside pressure to democratize would disappear and it would further increase economic and financial instability in the country”.

On the light of such a situation, another question rise even for the critics of the Turkey’s accession to the EU: is this the right moment to reject Turkey from the Europe?

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