By Ozdem Sanberk
If we, as citizens of Turkey, share the common goal of putting human dignity first in our country, then we should not belittle the recent EU Progress Report on Turkey.
The EU Commission’s 2012 Report on Turkey received a harsh reaction from the Turkish government. Trampling on the report is to offer a populist response to it. Populist responses make those giving them feel a bit better but they do not solve any problems. We may become furious at the European Union and there are plenty of reasons why we should. But hinting that we do not regard our own people as being entitled to enjoy the rights and liberties which the Union grants to its own people does not serve our goal of increasing our influence in the Middle East. Beyond that, it also does not gain us any influence or respect. On the contrary it confuses the people who are trying to make Turkey a model for the region.
The Progress Report puts people at the center of things
The Progress Report is not just concerned with justice and liberties. The report aims at showing how Turkey’s standards in fields like job security, food security, and the environment can be brought up to match international ones. In short, it is trying to help Turkey’s human development index achieve world standards. We should not forget that Turkey ranks only 92nd on the UN Human Development Index. A large number of the issues which the Progress Report concentrates on are regulations which would actually have the effect of directly improving the quality of daily life for a Turkish citizen.
Critiquing the report is one thing, dismissing it implies something else. Critiquing means discussion and questioning. In the words of Jacques Delors, Europe is a continent of eternal questioning and doubting. If you dismiss the report, you imply that Turkey now appears to be outside the European project. This is to forget that Turkey is a political actor able to determine the future of the continent.
This situation alone proves how distant we still are from the European project, even though we have now been inside it for 60 years. This is despite the fact that Turkey has played a key role in the history of the continent for the past 700 years, and is today a country whose population of nearly 80 million Muslims means that it has human resources which are appreciated in the countries of Europe. With its large economy it possesses political influence of which it is perhaps unaware.
Turkey must see itself as an actor in Europe
If Turkey can succeed in doing this, it may be able to turn back the winds which today blow against us in the continent. But for this to happen, Turkey has to engage with the European integration project and it should regard itself as entitled to help determine the future of the continent, just as it has done in the Middle East, and it should request to become one of its founders. Then it would be able to feel the pulse of the integration process and might achieve a position in which it could even direct the process. But at present it appears to have no inclination to attempt this.
Clearly a lack of vision in the political preferences of the chief political actors within the European Union has played a major role in causing Turkey’s accession negotiations to come to a virtual standstill. Indeed this lack of vision is what basically lies behind all the difficulties currently facing the Union. The crisis which the Union is going through today is not a purely financial crisis: it is also an existential crisis. Despite the painful experiences that they have endured in the recent past, we see that a number of influential members are today once more closing in on themselves and surrendering to xenophobia, racism, and Islamophobia.
The Union has had similar financial and political crises before in the last 60 years. But on each occasion it succeeded in extracting itself from these crises by returning to the principles of a common destiny and voluntary preference contained in the philosophy on which it was founded. In doing so it managed to take further steps to expand and to deepen itself. But this time we still do not know whether it will succeed in doing this again. The future of its relations with Turkey will play an important role in determining its success or failure.
Turkey has vested rights in Europe
Despite everything, there is no valid reason why Turkey should remain a spectator where European integration is concerned. On the contrary, it has acquired rights which derive from treaties signed half a century ago. Turkey, despite all the deficiencies which we accept that it has, now has the capacity to be an actor in European integration in both words and deeds, because of the level of development which it has now attained and the place it occupies in the world.
It is not only because of the responsibilities and rights which it has acquired that Turkey is not an actor which Europe can neglect. This is also true where its practical interests are concerned. Turkey today has an external trade volume of $374 billion a year of which $153 billion is with EU countries. Since the opening of the negotiating process, there has been an inflow of about $100 billion in direct foreign investment of which it may be observed around 80% comes from countries of the EU. Between 1980 and 2000, Turkey was able to attract only $10 billion in foreign investment. In other words, foreign investment in Turkey from the EU and elsewhere has risen ten-fold since the start of the negotiation process.
In the 21st century independence is possible only through shared sovereignty
History shows that countries which do not make the right moves in time cannot take advantage of future opportunities, lag in the hierarchy of the world, and eventually turn into dependent countries. The dynamics of the 21st century compel us, and every other country, to pool more of our sovereignty, but also to apply more liberty, transparency, and greater concern for the environment.
We are experiencing a force irresistibly driving us toward an order based on human rights and the supremacy of law. Whether they like it or not, this process is surrounding all countries and societies, including our own. Naturally, it is possible to opt to resist this force and decline to link into the dynamics of our times. But this can only happen on condition of paying the cost and making future generations of the country pay.
Furthermore, the main debates taking place in Europe involve themes which either concern Turkey or closely involve it. Radical currents in Europe generally appear to be against Muslims or against the Turkish candidacy in particular. Consequently, we have to take part in this discussion and questioning process and should not allow ourselves to be satisfied by making furious or regretful responses. Distancing Turkey from the European Union will not produce a solution for our own urgent problems. In any case, Europe is not just the monopoly of the 27 existing EU members. But if we ourselves reject our historical ties and acquiesce in letting them monopolize “European-ness,” then there will be nothing further for us to say.
If we accept that Europe is part of our own geography, then it is not enough just to say that we have not abandoned our goal of full membership. We have to become involved in the project and put forward a vision of how we can prepare the future of the continent together. We ought to be thinking very carefully about what we may be throwing in the rubbish bin if we do that to the Progress Report.
*The original version of this piece was published on ANALIST Journal in November 2012.
About the author: JTW
JTW - the Journal of Turkish Weekly - is a respected Turkish news source in English language on international politics. Established in 2004, JTW is published by Ankara-based Turkish think tank International Strategic Research Organization (USAK).