Turkey still needs EU, experts say

08/10/2012

A poll shows that popular support for the EU is slipping in Turkey, but experts believe it should remain a goal for Ankara.

By Erisa Dautaj Şenerdem for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 08/10/12

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Turkey applied for EU membership in 1987 and has been a candidate since 2002. [Reuters]

Despite the fading economic power of the EU and growing restlessness among citizens of Turkey, which has been a Union applicant for membership for a quarter century, experts say the nation should not give up its efforts and motivation to join.

Turkey EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış expressed frustration at the extended process last week when he remarked, "[Turkey] does not necessarily have to take seriously the progress report prepared by a non-progressing European Union."

As a candidate country, Turkey receives annual progress reports from the European Commission that point out improvements the country needs to make it through the grinding process of EU integration.

"The minister's words are an expression of frustration and we could read them as a natural reaction," Özdem Sanberk, chairman of the International Strategic Research Organisation and former Turkey's permanent representative of European Communities, told SETimes.

Bağış also noted that Turkey will prepare its own progress report, independent from the EU. "This shows that the country is willing and determined to continue with the reforms, despite some EU countries deliberately stalling the talks," Sanberk said.

Since Turkey and the EU signed the Ankara Agreement in 1963, membership talks moved at a crawling speed. The country applied for membership in 1987 and received formal candidate status in 2002. At that time, only one of 35 negotiation chapters (science and research) was completed successfully; eight others were put on hold because of the frozen Cyprus conflict.

Turkey has not recognised Cyprus, a member state of the Union, as a country since 1974. The country backs the Turkish Cypriots in the divided island.

Despite Bagis' evident frustration, President Abdullah Gul highlighted the commitment to EU accession during a news conference in Ankara with Britian's Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg last week.

"EU membership is a strategic choice of Turkey. There is no doubt about that and we did not give up on the EU accession goal," Gül said.

An opinion poll conducted by Open Society Foundation, a think tank located in Istanbul, showed that Turkish support for full EU membership dropped from 57 percent in 2007 to 51.7 percent last year.

Despite this fading enthusiasm, Emre Gönen, a professor of international relations at Bilgi University, said that the EU's principles are increasingly important for Turkey, and the world.

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Should the EU not exist, "Turkey will not be that powerful anymore, the EU's soft power will fade away and the surrounding geographies will not have the opportunity to look at the EU’s democracy system and take it as an example," Gönen told SETimes.

However, a major development in accession talks is not expected.

"There will be no fundamental changes in Turkey-EU relations in the short term. We still do not know where Europe itself is headed to," Uluç Özülker, Turkey's former ambassador to the EU, told SETimes.

"The EU got into a very serious economic crisis. The way out from this and the structure after the crisis is still unclear. There is one thing certain. The Union has to revamp the Lisbon Treaty and has no motivation for enlargement process right now," Ozturkler said.

This content was commissioned for SETimes.com.
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