Turkey presents a new strategy for EU accession but foreign policy could be the lucky card

Visit of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish Prime Minister, to the European Commission last January. It seems that both Barroso and Erdogan are pointing to the same direction. The question though is whether Turkey can follow. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey, on the left, and José Manuel Barroso, President of EC (EC Audiovisual Services, 21/02/2014)

Visit of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Turkish Prime Minister, to the European Commission last January. It seems that both Barroso and Erdogan are pointing to the same direction. The question though is whether Turkey can follow. Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, President of Turkey, on the left, and José Manuel Barroso, President of EC (EC Audiovisual Services, 21/02/2014)

Last Thursday, September 18, while the entire continent was looking towards Scotland, Turkey announced a new strategy to join the EU. Despite the tensions that characterized the country’s recent history, which is made by protests, brutal actions by the police, attempts by the government to shut down social platforms such as Twitter and You Tube, Turkey has openly declared that is determined to pursue the EU accession. Or maybe it’s exactly because of those troubled months and infamous episodes that Turkey wants to show a new, much more tolerant face.

The Turkish EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Volkan Bozkir said on Thursday that knots like the Islamic State-related question and other major crises in the Middle East made closer co-operation between Ankara and the European Union “essential”, right before opening the way to the announcement of the new program to revive Turkey’s stalled drive for EU membership.

Mr Bozkir said the new strategy has three legs: “Determination in the political reform process, continuity in socioeconomic transformation in the accession process and effectiveness in communication”. No doubt that the third leg has catalyzed most of the efforts, with Mr. Bozkir having met dozens of European diplomats, journalists and politicians during his four-day visit, including EU enlargement chief Stefan Fule. Indeed the Chief Negotiator stated that “for the past four years, no other EU minister has met with so many officials over the course of four days” by his own admission.

A whole 12-pages document was released by the Turkish EU Affairs Ministry to describe Ankara’s new vision. The document shows a radical change in tone on the part of the Turkish authorities and a total commitment to the cause. The very first lines, where the Turkey’s EU process is called “the most important modernisation project after the proclamation of the Republic of Turkey”, say it all. “Turkish Government, with a strong commitment to the EU process and to the transformation taking place in Turkey, will continue its determined and consistent policy for the EU membership as recently emphasized in the Programme of the 62nd Government”, the document states.

Turkey will also play most of its cards on the foreign policy’s field. EU’s enlargement chief Stefan Fule said in a statement that “Turkey is a key partner for the EU”, and Ankara knows that this is definitely the role that could open the door to EU accession like no other. Current and future crises in Middle East like the ones I cited above may represent the biggest opportunity for Turkey to show that it is already a mature partner in crucial negotiation processes. The “Turkey EU Strategy” document confirms this point: “The successful philosophy of the European Union is the adoption of an integrative approach to overcome the common challenges and the mobilisation of fact-based action mechanisms”… “this philosophy remains as our guide while projecting the future and implementing the EU Strategy with a refreshed motivation. Turkey will be better contributing to a stronger Union which is aware of its interests”.

The new European Union strategy released last week aims to “boost the reform process and establishment of new communication channels between Turkey and the EU”, but the process could be quite long. The program is due to come into effectiveness in November and will focus on a better implementation of the Turkish laws and a change of the constitution, as part of a bigger “action plan” by the government, due to last until 2019. Mr. Bozkir has repeatedly declared that his country will try to accelerate the process where possible, but it’s common idea that a ten year time span for Turkish accession remained “a very optimistic target”, as also argued by a EU diplomat to Reuters.

After a period of criticism and growing sense of distrust towards Erdogan’s policy in Europe, now Turkey is trying to make its bigger move towards EU accession. Most of the critics that Ankara received are focused on some inestimable values for Europe, including the separation of powers and freedom of speech, which I strongly believe is one of the Union’s pillars. And if it’s true that the EU was built on such values, for sure no country that wants to be part of the Union could be exempt from that scrupulous selection process.

“The essential dynamics of Turkey’s EU policy are the enhancement of democracy and human rights, institutionalization of free market economy and further establishment of modern living standards in all fields”, the document promises.

No doubt that everybody’s happy to read that, but for Turkey this is the time to demonstrate it’s true.

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