Challenges of Turkey’s EU Membership

2023/10/04 | Note, political, top news

Strategic Council Online - Opinion: Members of the European Parliament recently criticized Turkey’s approach towards Russia and the country’s non-compliance with Moscow’s sanctions, lack of restricting Russian media amid that country’s special military operations in Ukraine, strengthening trade relations with Russia, Turkey’s hosting Russian citizens and Ankara’s refrain from joining European sanctions against Russia. In its report, the European Parliament expressed concern over Turkey’s decreasing alignment with the foreign and defense policy of the European Union. From the point of view of the European Parliament, Ankara and Brussels should find other ways for cooperation other than Turkey's accession to the European Union because accession is not possible at present. Mahmoud Fazeli - International affairs analyst

Although Turkey officially condemned Russia’s role in the Ukraine conflict at the UN General Assembly meeting, it does not support sanctions outside the UN framework, but Olivér Várhelyi, the EU Commissioner for Neighborhood Affairs and EU Enlargement, insists that Turkey should cooperate with the EU and also cooperate in the implementation of sanctions against Russia, especially regarding the sanctioned goods.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Turkey condemned the recent report of the European Parliament and called it full of unfair accusations and prejudice based on false information from anti-Turkish circles. According to Ankara, the “report is a reflection of the superficial and short-sighted approach of the European Parliament regarding relations with Turkey and the future of the European Union. Members of the European Parliament are slaves to everyday populist politics and are far from developing the right strategic approach for the EU and the region. In such a critical period from the point of view of stability and security, when the window of opportunity has opened for the restoration of relations between Turkey and the European Union, Turkey considers such actions of the European Parliament to be irrational instead of negotiations on Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

The European Parliament’s annual report on the state of relations with Turkey in the general meeting of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, which was approved on September 13, showed that although the negotiations between Turkey and the European Union for the country’s accession to the Union continued with intensity and weakness for 18 years, in recent years has practically stopped.

Despite the closeness of the planned agenda between the EU and Turkey, different voices for Turkey’s membership are heard in Europe. In recent days, Austria’s Prime Minister Karl Nehmer, in response to Turkey’s recent pressure to revive the stalled negotiations on EU membership, asked the allies to officially end Turkey’s accession negotiations because the country’s full membership in the EU is unimaginable.

The recent words of Macron, the French president, emphasized that ‘the European Union should prepare the ground for the integration of countries that have more favorable conditions, but regarding the accession process of others, it is possible to move at a lower speed,’ is definitely not pleasing to Ankara. According to European Union Commissioner Olivér Várhelyi, ‘it is important to open Turkey’s path to EU membership and revive its membership prospects. New negotiations on Turkey’s membership can begin on the condition that Ankara presents a ‘valid roadmap’ on reforms related to ‘democracy and the rule of law.’

From the point of view of the President of the European Council, ‘the European Union must be ready to accept new members, and the candidates must try to solve their problems by 2030 to complete their membership. The union is hopeful about speeding up the membership process for some candidates but is in no rush for other candidates. He stated that the Union’s readiness to accept new members in the next seven years is conditional on ‘finalizing the necessary reforms to ensure the independence of the judicial system and respecting the principle of separation of powers in practice, the necessary efforts in the field of fighting organized crime and financial corruption, aligning the foreign policy of candidate countries with EU member states and ending bilateral conflicts before joining the EU.’

Due to be considered by the European Commission in October, the EU enlargement package will provide more details of the gradual steps of integration. According to what is foreseen in that package, the future members of the Union can feel the benefits of full participation in some institutions and accompanying the policies of the European Union before becoming an official member. This issue will be on the agenda of the meeting of the 27 heads of state of the European Union in early October in Spain.

As one of the old candidates for EU membership, Turkey has a 7-year opportunity to become a member of the EU, but doubts about the acceptance of Turkey’s membership remain. Like Albania, Bosnia, Kosovo, Montenegro, North Macedonia, and Serbia, Turkey is in different stages of joining the European Union. Those countries know very well that European Union members emphasize implementing the Union’s principles.

Turkey faces various political, legal, security, and economic problems through the supplementary membership process in the European Union. Turkey continues to be criticized by the West because of its close relations with China and Russia and disputes with Greece and Cyprus, two members of the European Union. Although Greece is trying to start a new chapter in relations, the parties are well aware that they have a difficult road ahead of them to reduce tensions. According to the Greek conservative leaders, Turkey must meet the EU membership criteria, and Greece supports Turkey’s membership if the conditions are met.

Turkey has been a candidate for EU membership since 1999, and negotiations began in December 2005. Those negotiations were suspended in Turkey in 2018 due to violations of the rule of law and fundamental democratic rights. So far, 16 of the 35 chapters of those negotiations have been opened, but only one chapter has been closed. The activity of the powerful mafia of human trafficking drugs, the inability to prevent asylum seekers from entering the European Union, the suppression of the Kurds, the continued arrest of members of the Fethullah Gulen group, restrictions on the media and human rights issues are severe obstacles to Turkey’s membership in the European Union.

Erdogan sometimes claims in his different positions that ‘Turkey has never needed the help or support of the European Union, but if the European Union takes a positive decision, we welcome it.’ They have kept Turkey at the gates of the European Union for 50 years. We have always been a self-sufficient country and never needed help or support from the European Union.

Being aware of its potential, Turkey shows its interests and privileges to the European Union. The country has the second largest army in the Atlantic alliance regarding the number of soldiers, has provided the Incirlik base to NATO, and has control over the Black Sea straits. That country is still considered an important Euro-Asian “center” for implementing US regional policy, and influential political-strategic circles in Washington are fully aware of this issue. From the point of view of the Western powers, Ankara’s pivotal status must be maintained. Trust in Turkey has undeniably weakened, but mutual interests remain strong, and Turkey, even with the different roles it sometimes plays, is an influential country. The evidence shows that Turkey has no intention of surrendering and wants to make its voice heard on the international stage like other so-called “emerging” governments.

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