Turkey’s prospects for EU membership remain bleak

Turkey’s prospects for EU membership remain bleak

Image: AFP

The European Parliament published its “periodic report on Turkey’s progress” this month. Turkish pro-opposition media consider these reports as the country’s magnetic resonance imagery, providing an accurate picture of Turkey. Pro-government media see these reports as aimed at tarnishing Ankara’s reputation.
The latest report is not very different from the previous ones. The main criticisms remain intact but, following several initiatives taken by Turkey on the international scene, Ankara is also hailed for its achievements. Turkey’s role in keeping the lines of communication between Russia and Ukraine open is a commendable achievement and the European Parliament did not miss the opportunity to praise it.
The report was adopted with 448 votes for, 67 against and 107 abstentions. The distribution of votes is indicative of the divided nature of parliamentarians on Turkey. In fact, the parliament welcomed “the recent slight improvement” in overall Turkey-EU relations and high-level dialogues, but spared no criticism in many other areas.
He welcomed Turkey’s readiness to act as a mediator in the Russian war against Ukraine and stressed the vital importance of Turkey-EU cooperation on foreign and security issues. The European Parliament brings this role of Turkey to the fore partly because it is a laudable effort, but more because the EU and NATO want to keep Turkey on their side to ensure that Ankara does not cooperate more closely with Russia. So far, Turkey has been able to properly respect this fragile balance.
The EU has always been fair in praising Turkey’s efforts to host the largest refugee population in the world, but this time it went further. The report also refers to the sustained provision of EU funding for this purpose. Turkey generally complains about the slow progress in making the funds available and in particular the strict rules that Brussels imposes on its disbursement.
Updating the Turkey-EU Customs Union has been on the agenda for years. Ankara has repeatedly called for it to be updated. The EU sometimes ignores this request, while only speaking for others. This time it repeats the objective but also attaches new conditions to its implementation and the overall tone of the report is still somber.

Turkey has the right to block the accession of any new member, but this subject must be handled with the utmost caution.

Yasar Yakis

The report reminds us that, despite Turkey’s repeated declarations that it wishes to become a member of the EU, the country has constantly backtracked on its commitments regarding the accession process. With the approach of parliamentary and presidential elections to be held in Turkey in June next year, or possibly earlier, it is unrealistic to expect any improvement in this area.
The slight improvement mentioned above is immediately counterbalanced by a negative note, which says: “This enhanced cooperation has unfortunately co-existed with regular conflicts, because relations with neighboring EU Member States (i.e. the Greece and the Greek Cypriots) remain difficult.
The European Parliament report also highlights the continued deterioration of the human rights situation in Turkey and deplores the sustained legal and administrative pressure on civil society and human rights defenders, lawyers and journalists. It calls on the European Commission to provide sufficient funding for democracy efforts in Turkey. This suggestion is more than enough for the government to further curb the activities of human rights defenders and pro-opposition journalists.
The European Parliament thus recalls that it cannot, at this stage, justify its position concerning a formal suspension of accession negotiations with Turkey, effectively at a standstill since 2018. The report points the finger at the case of the philanthropist and activist of the human rights Osman Kavala because the Turkish judiciary refused to implement a verdict handed down in his case by the European Court of Human Rights.
Another important and controversial issue is Turkey’s objection to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership applications. Turkey has the right to block the accession of any new member, but this subject must be handled with the utmost caution.
Turkey’s opposition to Sweden’s and Finland’s NATO membership is still an ongoing process. If NATO acts too slowly, there may be a risk of deterioration of the security situation on the border between Russia and Finland. Turkey cannot bear the responsibility for such a risk. In 2008, NATO was too slow to process Georgia’s admission. If Georgia and Ukraine were fast-tracked, the Georgian war of 2008 and the current Ukraine war could have been avoided, because Russia would have thought twice before carrying out its military operations in both country. Article 5 of the Treaty — which lays down the principle of collective defense — would have deterred it.
The history of mankind must be full of such missed opportunities.

Yasar Yakis is a former Foreign Minister of Turkey and a founding member of the ruling AK Party.
Twitter: @yakis_yasar

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