Cause and Effect in European Politics and Law

The Challenges Turkey and the EU Are Facing

Adelina Marini, April 18, 2012

The issue of Turkey's accession to the European Union will again emerge on the agenda with a new impetus with the approach of the Cypriot presidency of the Council of the EU from July 1st. Those will be 6 months of huge test both for Turkey and the Union, given the already stated intentions of Ankara to boycott the presidency because of unresolved disputes, and the EU's response that it would not accept threats. Turkey always evokes heated debates in the entire union and especially in some member states. In March there were debates in the European Parliament too on the European Commission progress report on Turkey from the autumn of last year.

This year will be important for the EU-Turkey relations also for the fact that EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Fule proposed a way to exit the stalemate of the negotiations - since the summer of 2010 not a single chapter has been opened so far, 8 chapters are frozen because of Cyprus and others are blocked by France. Mr Fule's proposal is work to begin on a "positive agenda", which includes the frozen chapters too. The idea is the Commission to keep its influence on the reforms process in Turkey, by in the same time trying to prevent the process of frustration that is growing in the Turkish society. The positive agenda is still not specifically outlined but for now is being accepted well in Turkey and in the European Parliament.

Similar scheme has been applied on Macedonia, when the Commission started a high level dialogue with Skopje, which the institution insists not to be called "negotiations" but practically it is the essential work of the negotiating process, until the stalemate between Greece and Macedonia is resolved.

During the debates in Strasbourg last month it became clear also that there are many MEPs who think that in spite of the blocked negotiations chapters 23 and 24 should be opened too - "Judiciary and Fundamental Rights" and "Justice, Freedom and Security". According to Dimitar Bechev, director of the Sofia office of the European Council on Foreign Relations however, who was a participant in the discussion of euinside and the European Strategies and Policies Institute last year about Turkey, Turkey does not see a political logic in implementing reforms without a clear commitment for membership. He recalled the 2005 compromise, on the basis of which the accession negotiations started with Turkey and which does not include necessarily membership after they are completed.

With Dimitar Bechev and Dimitar Ashikov, macroeconomist, we gathered last week in the Coffee Roasting Boutique Domani to discuss all aspects of the Turkish-European relations at the moment against the backdrop of the very good economic indicators of Turkey and the not very good economic perspectives for the EU. From the perspective precisely of the economic management, stability and Turkey's new self-confidence in economic and foreign policy aspect, several risks were outlined in the conversation. One such risk is what will Turkey be after Erdogan, who is currently in his third and last term as prime minister and there is no serious alternative on the scene. Dimitar Bechev explained that Erdogan's party, the AKP, is of a leader type, a well known phenomenon in Bulgaria too. There is already a precedent with Turgut Ozal, whose party disappeared with him.

The opposition is weak, divided and without a clear leader, which makes the situation even more insecure. In the same time Dimitar Ashikov pointed out that in the past years Turkey has been very skillfully managed to balance imbalances and to manage its finances, which has happened precisely during Erdogan's leadership. The economist also thinks that the Turkish economy is of such a scale that it can develop independently from whether it would be a member of the EU, although a European membership would alleviate many things, among which trade. It is a fact, however, that the EU is Turkey's main trading partner and a major investor in the country. At the moment Turkey is in the middle income trap, Mr Bechev and Mr Ashikov agreed, meaning that middle levels of income have been reached through quick growth, based on cheap labour. Now Turkey has to pass onto the next level - a change of the quality of growth which requires a serious approach for reform of education, the infrastructure.

Turkey is a G20 country, but is situated on the bottom of the influential group, striving in the coming years to reach the middle, Dimitar Ashikov added and pointed out that the EU did not have a chance to integrate a G20 country every day. Both analysts were unanimous that the EU needed Turkey and vice versa, but according to Mr Ashikov it was very important to have in mind what European Union Turkey would aim for in the upcoming years because, in his words, the union was moving in many speeds. He compared the EU as an animal which, when eating, cannot digest. There are countries like Portugal and Greece, which looked fully integrated but now are much disintegrated in terms of common policies, financial discipline.

He described the countries that cause headaches in the entire EU and destabilise the eurozone, the countries from Central Europe that move with their own speed, then Bulgaria and Romania, as well as some old member states who seem to be on their way to drop out from the EU. Against this backdrop there is a lack of clarity how will the integration process of those that are already in the EU go ahead and Turkey is a new determinant for Europe. Dimitar Bechev said for his part that EU's stratification could be to some extent to the benefit for Turkey, because it would allow it to join that part of the EU where the level was lower but when it found out that the important decisions for the Union were taken in the inner circle, which it did not belong to, Turkey would not be happy. On the other hand, though, he said, the economic and regulatory burden to be part of a highly coordinated and integrated fiscal and monetary policy at this stage could be a very high price.

Both did not commit to a specific forecast about when Turkey could be ready for membership precisely because of the big uncertainty - membership to what union. A question the Union itself is still unable to answer. With Mr Bechev and Mr Ashikov we discussed many other aspects of the Turkey-EU relations, including the rhetoric of the French election campaign, the refusal Turkey to receive a visa free regime with the EU, France's role, the Turkish debate in Germany and the ideas of a privileged partnership instead of a full fledged membership. As the topic is huge and is expected to unfold quite dynamically soon, we agreed to meet again for a Turkish coffee.

euoutside is realised with the support of Domani Coffee Roasting Boutique, Sofia, 4 Dimitar Hadzhikotsev St.