December 2, 2015
The EU summit held in Brussels on December 17, 2004 decided that accession negotiations with Turkey would start on October 3, 2005. The process was accordingly launched at the Luxembourg Intergovernmental Conference. This was two years after the Justice and Development Party (JDP) had come to power and “democratic reform” appeared to be high on the agenda. In early April 2009 President Obama visited Turkey. He addressed the Turkish Parliament and referred to Turkey’s strong, vibrant, secular democracy as Ataturk’s greatest legacy.
Turkey’s accession to the EU would have been a landmark development for the world for two reasons. Firstly, it would have shown that a determined Moslem country could achieve the highest democratic standards. And secondly, it would have proven that the EU could embrace a Moslem country which had attained those standards. The project, however, required genuine political will from both sides. Unfortunately, that kind of will was never there.
EU’s Brussels summit of December 17, 2004 was characterized by an ambivalent, even hostile attitude on the part of the Europeans. They were already regretful of what they were about to do. The atmosphere was hardly different when the negotiations were launched on October 3, 2005. This gave the Turkish side the lasting impression that the process would never lead anywhere. The initial response was to say that Turkey would turn the “Copenhagen criteria” into “Ankara criteria” and relentlessly continue with political reform. And that did not prove to be the case. Today we still have the JDP in power but another Turkey. “Democratic reform” has been forgotten. Our constitutional/institutional structures remain weaker than ever. The country is dangerously polarized. Internal and external policies lack foresight, transparency and public scrutiny. There is no consensus even on what our national interests are.
Had the EU and Turkey been able to act otherwise, “an example to follow” would have been set for the Middle East. Perhaps the Arab Spring would not have created such turmoil. Perhaps ISIL’s propaganda would not have drawn so many to its ranks.
On November 29, 2015 a EU-Turkey summit was held in Brussels. Everybody knew exactly what this summit was about. It was all about “striking a deal” with Turkey to keep the Syrian refugees away from Europe. Yet, upon arrival in Brussels PM Davutoglu reportedly said: “I am grateful to all European leaders for this new beginning… Today is a historic day in our accession process to the EU.” And, at the summit he reportedly said that Turkey was a European country and the future of the continent was our common cause. The audience must have been exhilarated.
The first paragraph of the eleven paragraph statement (2) issued at the end of the summit is an introductory one. The second says that the participants have agreed that the accession process needs to be re-energized.
Paragraph 7 appears to be the key one about the “deal”. What this paragraph essentially says is that the Syrian refugees who were repeatedly invited to come to Turkey by the government under the illusion that they were soon to go back as prospective neo-Ottoman subjects following Assad’s ouster are now to stay for good. They will no longer be allowed to cross over to Europe. Under an “orderly migratory flow” the Europeans will pick the precious few whom they would deem fit to start a new life in an EU country without posing a security risk. And under paragraph 6, the EU commits itself to provide an initial 3 billion euro of additional resources in a spirit of burden-sharing. After all, as we say in Turkey, “what the eye does not see, the heart does not grieve over”.
The sequence of paragraphs in the statement must be designed to give some satisfaction to the Turkish side; starting with a reference to the need to revive the accession process and then taking up the migration problem as if that was a secondary issue. But, this is what Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, told the press after the meeting (2):
“We have now concluded a useful summit between the European Union and Turkey.
“This summit was about renewing our relationship based on a clear timetable for action. We discussed a range of important areas such as counter-terrorism, energy, trade, as well as geo-strategic issues of common concern.
“But obviously migration was the primary reason why we all met today…”
This is another way of saying that the meeting wouldn’t have been held were it not for the migration problem. The truth is, Turkey and the EU are further apart from one another than they were in December 2004. But this is a world of double standards and the EU is no exception. All of this aside, the “deal” constitutes yet another message to the people of Syria that only they can put their house in order, not anybody else.