The changing dynamics of the EU-Turkey political dialogue - New opportunities and challenges

23 March 2012

“It’s fantastic but a huge challenge to put my intellectual background into practice,” said Turkish Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu, a professor of political science and international relations.

“Turkey-EU relations aren’t developing in a vacuum. Foreign policy worldwide is evolving significantly, and Turkey-EU relations cannot be understood without realising this,” Davutoğlu said.

He explained that “three massive earthquakes” had changed Turkey’s relations with the EU:

  • In 1991 there was a geopolitical ‘earthquake’: the collapse of the Soviet Union and the fall of the Berlin Wall, which was “a big opportunity for EU-Turkey relations”.
  • The security ‘earthquake’ of Sept. 11 and its aftermath.
  • The ‘earthquake’ of 2011, which included crises in Iran, the Middle East (including in Turkey’s neighbour, Syria), the euro zone and North Africa.

After 1991, Turkey-EU relations had a “big opportunity” to develop further after Turkey had applied for EU membership in 1987, the foreign minister recalled.

“We had structured relations with the EU. But we didn’t use the next 10 years properly. We failed to work together on the Balkan challenge, for example,” Davutoğlu lamented.

The EU was born with the Maastricht Treaty. “Brussels seized its opportunity to develop, but Turkey failed to benefit. The EU began to see us as a source of risk, due to our neighbourhood and the need for democratic reform,” he said.

“The risks [of Turkey’s EU membership] were considered to be too high. That’s not just the EU’s fault. Turkey delayed democratic reform in the 1990s when the rest of Europe was reforming. Also, we didn’t develop enough economically in those ten years,” Davutoğlu said.

But despite pessimism in Turkey about its relations with the EU in 2001, the country’s future was still bright. “It just needed to reassess its assets,” he recalled.

“After 9/11, we didn’t waste a second decade. Unfortunately, the democracy narrative has been replaced by security, which has had a negative impact on the EU and made it more inward-looking,” the professor argued.

“The EU still has [a] choice. It can be an economically dynamic geopolitical centre, a culturally outward-looking world power, or it can be an inward-looking, economically declining, mono-cultural continental power,” he said.

“We hope the EU will one day see us as an asset and a partner. Turkey has a long history, and we’re prepared to wait,” Davutoğlu declared.

“Turkey can offer the EU new dynamism and ideas, despite all the disappointments of EU-Turkey relations. EU membership is still our strategic choice. That won’t change,” he said.

“The EU’s economic performance would look much better with Turkey in it,” he claimed.

Davutoğlu questioned popular assumptions in Europe that EU membership would prompt a flood of immigration from Turkey.

“This isn’t the 1960s. Turkey is creating more and better jobs than Europe. We’re no longer a foreign policy threat either. We can play a key role in the Iran nuclear crisis,” he said.

“In this new era, we expect the EU to recognise our assets and understand [that Turkish EU membership is] a win-win for Turkey and the EU. Such a Europe could be a new global power and play a leading role in world peace,” he said.

“I’m convinced that we’ll join one day,” he concluded.