Turkey-EU relations: Time for a new agenda?

29 November 2011

“Prejudices are the biggest obstacle in EU-Turkey relations,” said Turkish EU Affairs Minister Egemen Bağış, Ankara’s chief negotiator on EU accession, declaring that “dialogue can give us a different outlook”.

Bağış complained that a “thick curtain” was obscuring the real issues at stake. “EU politicians exploit Turkey’s EU membership aspirations for their domestic political campaigns. That’s why the negotiations are at a standstill,” he claimed.

Turkey’s EU accession negotiations are all but frozen and no new chapters have been opened or closed for a year. “But that doesn’t mean that Turkey’s reform process is at a standstill – we’re reforming faster than ever,” Bağış said, citing reform of the trade code among dozens of new laws adopted recently.

“Turkey is the second fastest-growing economy in the world. It will be the second-biggest economy in the world by 2050,” Bağış said, explaining that foreign direct investment was driving this growth. “85% of all FDI in Turkey is from the EU,” he added.

“The numbers don’t lie: EU businessmen have understood Turkey’s potential. Politicians will follow, and the EU will come around. There’s no room for emotion in international relations,” Bağış declared.

“We’re dependent on each other. Turkey needs the EU less these days than it did in the past, and the EU needs us more, so eventually we’ll meet in the middle,” he predicted.

He warned that if the EU economy were to continue to shrink, then Turkish exports may also fall as a result.

Bağış spoke of the possibility of pursuing “a new approach” to Turkish-EU relations, while at the same time insisting that Ankara harboured a single goal in the negotiating process: full EU membership.

“Ideas don’t have borders. The EU is an idea, not a geographical entity. It’s [a union of] democracy, human rights and values. We can’t say ‘you can’t have democracy’,” Bağış warned, highlighting Turkey’s image as a role model for citizens of countries like Libya, Syria and Iran.

“They see us as a similar state to theirs. But we’ve got jobs, growth and freedoms. Why? Because we’ve got EU membership aspirations,” he said, warning that by dashing Ankara’s EU membership hopes, European politicians would also be dashing the democratic dream for millions of people in Turkey’s wider neighbourhood.