Sunday, 2 October 2011

Europe and Turkey need each other – but not in an EU context

This article was published in Today's Zaman by the Danish People's Party MEP Morten Messerschmidt, founder of the Turkey Assessment Group, which appears to be one of the few institutions in Europe willing to apply some degree of rationality or scepticism to the question of whether Turkey should join the EU.
The “Turkish question” is still on the EU agenda and discussions as well as negotiations over Turkish membership of the EU have been taking place for decades. But we have to scrutinize the situation carefully and ask ourselves whether it is in the interest of Europe and the wishes of a more and more self-confident Turkish population to become the 28th member state of the EU. Has Turkey asked herself whether the typical EU centralized model of legislation serves her interests as an independent nation? Has Turkey asked herself whether she can live with a model where around 75 percent of the legislation is proposed by a non-elected body of commissioners in Brussels?

I doubt that the Turkish government has seriously dealt with the question as to whether Turkish EU membership is really an advantage, simply because membership seems so far away. The whole “play” around the negotiations has something ritualistic about it and goes around in circles with no one really getting anywhere. So instead of moving around in circles, it would be much more honest and realistic to move forward with other models for a binding bilateral cooperation between the EU and Turkey.

Turkey is in many ways moving in a direction which makes it hard to deal with the traditional European values of democracy, gender equality and freedom of speech. The present government with Erdoğan as its leader has curbed freedom of speech, and journalists are jailed for criticizing the ruling Justice and Development Party, or AKP, which shrewdly connects any criticism with terrorist activities. Furthermore, we have the unsolved situation in Cyprus, which is certainly not aiming for a solution but rather an escalation. The Turks maintain their grip on the northern part of the island, and nothing indicates that the government is going to loosen its iron grip on the “Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, or TRNC,” despite the expressed wish among Turkish Cypriots.

Having said this and having criticized the ruling Erdoğan government, it is not my aim to oust Turkey from the European House. On the contrary, it is my firm belief that Europe and Turkey need each other as “cousins.” Europe and Turkey are neighbors, and a sound neighborhood should be built upon a foundation of mutual trust and understanding, thus aiming at diminishing and closing the existing cultural and political gap between Turkey and Europe. We cannot move forward, aiming at the stars, but should be satisfied with less, focused on what is realistic.

Turkey has an important role to play as a trustworthy and reliable partner to Europe and as a bridge between Europe and the Middle East. And I think I speak on behalf of most Europeans when I say that I’d rather see a democratic Turkey as the leading nation in the Middle East than Ahmadinejad’s theocratic and totalitarian dictatorship in Iran. Therefore, Europe has to place its trust in Turkey, but we can only make a new beginning in the relationship if we bury the idea of a full Turkish EU membership.

This new beginning of a prosperous European-Turkish relationship should be based on political realism and objective criteria. Ideology and utopian dreams, as we have seen them for the last decades, have to be consigned to the dustbin of history, as they only cause unnecessary confusion and uncertainty that create frustrations and push both parties farther apart. The EU and Turkey have to stay on the path of realism and work out agreements in various fields such as trade, security issues and exchange of knowledge – for example, an exchange of students and experts. Why not focus on common free trade agreements or even better, exchange of highly skilled workers rather than aiming at what for decades has seemed unreachable?

Turkey and Europe need each other but within a framework of good neighboring. The present and futile negotiations over membership have proved to be a dead end, and, in my view, we are wasting precious time on this project with the possible result of exacerbating the relationship between our countries and Turkey. Only when Europe removes the blindfold of ideology can we move forward and create a new framework for a partnership between the EU and Turkey in the 21st century. I sincerely believe that this will happen – simply because we cannot afford to wait any longer.

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