If our political parties can seize on the democratic environment brought along with the June 7 elections, we’ll be able to not only eliminate the polarization within our society but also minimize the dire risks associated with the circle of instability and insecurity that currently surrounds us.
By Özdem Sanberk
With its recent parliamentary elections Turkey has proved its resolution to deal with its own problems through purely democratic means, despite being located in a region where democracy is yet to flourish. It refused to grant yet another absolute parliamentary majority to the very political party which had been ruling the country for over a decade. The election results, while proving that democracy is internalized by a broad and diverse segment of our society, also demonstrated once again how dynamic the Turkish society is, with its sincere embracement of democracy. The Turkish electorate’s ability to exhibit such willpower is inspiring for the future of both our country and the larger region considering that our people stood firmly behind democracy.
At this moment, it will be important for the new coalition government to prioritize mending our relations with Europe amid a domestic political atmosphere marked by the consolidation of Turkish democracy. That is because the democratic dynamics generated by the June 7 elections harbor opportunities that may allow us to reinvigorate our EU accession process and to establish new links through which Turkey and the EU can reach a common ground.
It is clear that the EU, which is exerting a great amount of effort to pull itself together and set priority targets under the slogan of “A new beginning for Europe”, will immensely benefit from having a politically stable and democratic Turkey with a resilient economy in the midst of a region experiencing total geopolitical breakdown. Such a context surrounding Europe and the Middle East makes way for a renewed convergence between the processes of EU integration and Turkey’s EU accession.
Turkey had consistently taken historical steps towards further integration with the EU whenever the EU made a breakthrough in terms of accelerating integration within itself in the past. In other words, Turkey has thus far managed to keep its own process of convergence with the EU in sync with the EU’s own comprehensive integration project. As one may remember, the Turkish Grand National Assembly (TBMM) applied to join the European Economic Community in 1959, only two years after this common market was founded by six European countries in Rome. Eventually, the Ankara Agreement was signed in 1963.
Turkey first reacted with the Additional Protocol in 1972 and then with an application for full membership in 1987 in the face of the gradual expansion and deepening of Europe throughout the 60s and 70s under the names of the European Community and the European Union respectively. Turkey signed the Customs Union in 1995, gained official recognition as a candidate for full-membership in 1999, and started accession negotiations in 2005.
These developments were all in response to several major steps taken by the EU throughout the 1990s in the successive summits of Brussels, the Hague, Amsterdam, and Maastricht, including the Eastern enlargement, the Single European Act, the Single Market Act, the enablement of structural and investment funds, the Economic and Monetary Union, and eventually the adoption of a common currency and the Banking Union.
As has been seen, Turkey never gave up its claim to the EU integration project and remained a relevant party over the last fifty years by keeping the organic bond between its own accession process and the EU’s evolutionary course largely intact. And today, it is more important than ever for the EU, which is trying to make a fresh start, to throw its weight behind our country’s endless efforts aimed at harmonizing Turkey’s accession process with the EU integration project considering the current regional and global circumstances.
The EU’s new targets
When he took office for a five-year term as President of the European Commission last year, Jean-Claude Juncker elaborated on the Commission’s program for the 2014-2019 period. Here he stated that there won’t be any more enlargement rounds in the upcoming period, and instead that the Commission would focus on ten priority areas to address issues of ‘employment, growth, justice, and democratic change’.
Obviously, the priority areas identified by Juncker for the next five years focus on certain targets which are also directly associated with Turkey’s most pressing problems. Indeed, the full list of the EU’s primary concerns that have been highlighted by the President of the European Commission include ‘employment, the growth and investment package, the digital union, energy, the domestic market, the economic and monetary union, the free trade agreement with the U.S., justice and basic rights, immigration, becoming a more powerful global actor, and democratic change’.
Juncker, who said his main priority is to boost the EU’s competitiveness in order to create more jobs, also expressed that the Commission could provide an additional 300 billion euros to the real economy of the EU within the next three years. He articulated that the European economy can be further augmented with the infusion of 250 billion euros or more, an amount that is to be freed up by the creation of a digital single market. Moreover, Juncker unveiled the Commission’s intention to reform Europe’s common energy policy with the aim of transforming the EU into an ‘Energy Union’.
Moreover, key issues that are to be considered by the Commission, according to Juncker, are (i) the establishment of a fair domestic market that won’t tolerate corruption but that will contribute to the equitable distribution of the tax burden, (ii) the rearrangement of support packages that are provided within the scope of the Economic and Monetary Union for maintaining financial stability in certain Eurozone countries which are having a hard time dealing with their structural problems, and finally (iii) the acceleration of protective measures aimed at maintaining the stability of the common currency. The Commission is also expected to continue negotiations for a well-balanced free trade agreement with the U.S. that will abolish all customs duties on north Atlantic trade.
As it relates to the EU agenda in the realm of ‘Justice and Basic Rights’, Juncker remarked that the EU is also a union of values, therefore its citizens demand the utmost respect for their basic rights and the enforcement of the rule of law alongside the provision of justice and protection by their governments.
Expressing his firm belief that fighting cross-border crimes and terrorist networks is the shared responsibility of Europe, he further added that organized crime in all shapes and forms – such as human trafficking, the illicit trafficking of narcotics, and cyber crimes – will be confronted with determination during his term of office. Including in this list the fight against radicalism and corruption, Juncker has envisioned an all-out war against crime to be waged through the joint efforts of all stakeholders in Europe.
Nevertheless, basic rights and liberties will be secured even during such an all-out struggle against cross-border crime according to Juncker’s relevant statements. The new President of the European Commission underlined the need to draft a new immigration law, and stressed the Commission’s willingness to broaden the scope of cooperation with third countries to include readmission agreements as well. Calling attention to Europe’s alarming inability to maintain a common stance in the face of the host of daunting events that continue ravage Ukraine and indeed the whole of the Middle East, Juncker shed light on the crucial and rather urgent task of transforming the EU into an influential global actor. While acknowledging that the EU will inevitably pause its enlargement efforts for the next five years, he nevertheless promised to resume negotiations that are already in progress. Finally, he expressed his opinion that the EU needs to focus more on the political aspect of cooperation with the European Parliament if it wishes to attain a higher level of democratic development.
Besides functioning as a roadmap that will guide the new Commission over the next five years, the abovementioned targets also provide a solid basis for the improvement of Turkey-EU relations during this same period with an eye to our shared interests. As a matter of fact, implicit references to such common ground are rather easily noticed in the “New EU Strategy” that was revealed by the 62nd government of Turkey on September 18, 2014 in Brussels. This strategy, which comprises three pillars – ‘determination in the political reform process’, ‘continuity in socio-economic transformation’, and ‘effectiveness in communication’ – was carried into effect through two successive documents, namely the “National Action Plan for EU Accession” and the “the EU Communication Strategy”.
The principle of synchronicity is still valid
“Turkey’s New EU Strategy” shows that Prime Minister Davutoğlu’s government is not at all indifferent to the new targets set by the EU in light of its own integration project. Turkey announcing its own accession strategy right after the new Commission’s declaration of its five-year plan is a clear indication of the Turkish government’s undaunted loyalty and strict adherence to the principle of synchronicity when it comes to the dynamic interaction between the EU’s internal integration project and Turkey’s own agenda regarding gradual engagement with the EU. By retaining such harmony in timing and substance, Turkey also demonstrates its well-deserved status as a stakeholder in the European integration project.
A weighty agenda
These documents, which were declared on September 18, attest that the near future of Turkey-EU relations will be marked by a weighty agenda dominated by seven crucial headlines: (i) the opening of new chapters in accession negotiations, (ii) the renewal of the Customs Union and Turkey’s inclusion in the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) process, (iii) the completion of the Visa Liberalization Dialogue, (iv) the internalization of the EU accession process through effective civil society dialogue and communication strategies, (v) ensuring the full utilization of all pre-accession instruments, (vi) increasing mutual dialogue and visits at the highest level, and (vii) developing cooperation in key areas such as energy and economy in a way that will not hinder but instead reinforce the full-accession vision.
While the headlines that are listed above are yet to be fully addressed, each of them will inevitably continue to blur the fate up until 2019 of what is essentially an open-ended negotiation process between Turkey and the EU. As a matter of course, it is impossible to anticipate with certainty whether the negotiations in question will yield any concrete results at all, at least for the moment, considering the lack of legal guarantees. Therefore, whether the terms of the Customs Union can be revised, or the difficulties arising from agreements on visa exemption and readmission can be resolved remains a mystery.
Nevertheless, we can possibly grease the wheels of Turkey’s prolonged EU accession process by realizing an overlap of the two parties’ seemingly distinct agendas and make sure we agree on certain priorities in the first place. However, such a synergy can be generated only if Turkey’s upcoming 63rd government manages to seize upon the democratic environment, which is engendered by the pluralistic results of the June 7 elections, in light of the dynamics of Turkey-EU relations as described above. This is because the ability of Turkey’s next government to assess the situation accurately will not only help us to reduce the alarming rate of polarization within our society, but also allow the minimization of some grave risks associated with the circle of instability and insecurity that is currently surrounding our borders.