Which EU to join?
Looking at recent speeches of the prime minister and the chief negotiator, one gets the impression that the European Union is making a modest comeback in Turkey. On a trip to Germany last week, Justice and Development Party (AKP) leader Recep Tayyip Erdoğan confirmed that EU accession is still Turkey's strategic goal. For good reasons, he blamed the EU for not doing its part in making this possible, and for the first time announced a sort of unofficial deadline: 2023.
I agree with Erdoğan, in the sense that if and when Turkey is not able to become a member by its centennial, the whole accession process is doomed. In order to get in before 2023, both Turkey and the EU will have to engage in a serious restart, in 2014 at the latest.

That was probably also the reason why Egemen Bağış, the person responsible for such new dynamism on the Turkish side, said in an interview that he expected a meaningful push from the EU in 2013, after the crippling Greek Cypriot EU presidency comes to an end. I am not so sure whether next year is the most appropriate one for the start of what one could call the second part of Turkey's EU negotiations under AKP rule, after the first successful term from 2002 till 2005. The EU will still be obsessed with trying to get out of the economic and political crisis it is confronted with, and in the run-up to the German elections in September 2013 one should not expect a substantial change in Berlin's position on Turkey's EU membership.

Still, the visit of François Hollande to Turkey in the beginning of 2013 could be the beginning of a more constructive phase in EU-Turkey relations. The French president, who does not share the ideological Turkophobia of his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, is expected to announce the end of the French blockade of several chapters in the technical negotiations. That would be a highly important symbolic step in the right direction that would allow Turkey and the EU to start talking on some key issues. But we will need a new German government and some major breakthroughs in the internal EU struggle for a new institutional framework to prevent another crisis in the eurozone in order to be able to shift to a higher gear in the negotiations in 2014.

A remarkable element in Erdoğan's remarks on Europe in Berlin was his announcement that when Turkey becomes an EU member, it will not join the eurozone but keep the lira. He quoted British politicians and experts who had apparently been able to convince the prime minister and his advisers that Turkey should look for a "British" position in the EU: focus on the internal market, stick to its own currency and try to keep out of those European policies that are considered not in its own interests.

That prospect touches on some of the key discussions in today's EU: How should a more integrated union be organized, both economically and politically, and will it be possible in the future to be a member of the EU without participating in the core group of countries that share a common currency and all the institutional arrangements that go with it? The UK, Sweden and Denmark have already opted for that position, in what is often called the second tier of the EU framework. It may well be that some of the new EU members from Central and Eastern Europe will come to the same conclusion after witnessing the current euro crisis and the solutions that are being discussed. Joining the eurozone brings a lot of advantages, but it also means that countries have to give up large parts of their economic and financial sovereignty.

I would be very happy if the words of Erdoğan and Bağış meant that Turkey would start discussing the real questions for every present and future member of the EU. What kind of further integration do we want, and what would be the benefits, the risks and the disadvantages of each model? It makes much more sense for Turkey to play a role in that debate than to stand on the sidelines, complaining about the bad treatment it is getting and missing out on the real decisions to be made about the union it apparently still wants to join one day.

Last Modified: 2012-11-07 10:00:01
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