Will Turkey be in the ‘winners’ club’ or the ‘losers’ pit’ by 2023 ? (2)

16:35 02 June in ARTICLES, In English, PUBLICATIONS

Todays ZamanToday’s Zaman | 02 June, 2009 |

MEHMET ÖĞÜTÇÜ * |

To be fair, we should be thankful for the idealism and faith shown by the European Union’s founders.  No doubt, the EU is the biggest political union and largest economic market in the world and its citizens live in democracy, peace, freedom and prosperity. The EU has achieved many stunning successes in its history.It engineered the Single Market, moved the Lisbon 2010 competitiveness agenda “a bit” forward. The Schengen agreement worked, and Brussels is currently leading the way with the global climate-change agenda. The EU, of course, is committed to creating a single area of freedom, justice and security. It is also trying to achieve energy supply security, though at a snail’s pace without antagonizing Russia. The track record leaves us with mixed feelings.

Yet, today this is not enough to justify the existence of the EU to a different generation living in different times.

The fact is there are serious blockages in the EU system right now and if these are not cleared and radically new structures are not put in place instead of the current cosmetic changes under way, then it is inevitable that the inner EU bickering will only become more aggravated and ultimately irreparable. If this happens then no one can expect the EU to have any real impact on the global system anymore. It will be relegated to the status of a regional bloc.

What is in it for us?

Over the past few years EU entrance aspirations have lost ground and speed in Turkey. This cannot be explained away by simply saying that Brussels has not satisfied the Justice and Development Party’s (AK Party) expectations, causing Ankara to draw back. In my opinion, it is not that simple. We have better realized the strengths, weaknesses and hypocrisies of the EU, which led us to reconsider the frantic obsession for EU accession and adopt a foot-down, business-like approach: “What is in it for us?” The public opinion polls also point to such a cooling of emotions vis-à-vis the EU.

Under the current conditions, even if the Cyprus problem were to be solved, the European Commission’s annual reports were to present evidence of a perfectly clean record on Turkey’s progress, all 35 of the accession chapters were to open at the same time and get endorsed and even if the Armenian “genocide” allegations were adopted the way Brussels has thus far pushed for, we should not mislead ourselves into believing that Turkish EU membership would be anywhere on the visible horizon. The prospects could be different only if there was a dramatic change of heart and international determination to push forward such an accession under the stewardship of France, Germany and the UK.

Those who present this phenomenon as: “What, are you also opposed to EU accession? Isn’t the EU the natural destination for our country’s historical vocation? If we don’t enter the EU we will become nothing but lunch for the wolves, stuck in the vicious cycle of nationalism and religious fanaticism in the Middle East!” should not be given a sympathetic ear, either.

The current strategy of the EU machinery appears to be based on the no longer functioning or credible “carrot and stick” approach, trying to hold Turkey at bay and evade as long as possible a firm decision through drawn-out accession talks.

If Turkey were to correctly analyze the global power shift, which is putting the Asia-Pacific region to the forefront of economics and geopolitics, and could position itself accordingly, it would assure itself a rightful place on the “winners’ train” before even the EU did. If the EU fails to shake itself into action to play a central role on the world stage, and if it doesn’t quell the flames of internal fires and make the long overdue political and institutional transformations necessary for this, then whether or not Turkey becomes a full EU member won’t matter in the larger unified picture to appear soon anyway.

The EU, if it will ever become a global power on a par with the US and China, has to embrace Turkey to benefit from its valuable regional outreach as well as other assets Turkey brings to the table. If this will does not exist there is no point in wasting our energy on EU accession games. Arguing that we need the EU to “anchor” our fragile democracy and threatened modernization if necessary even as a “privileged partner,” I find, is humiliating and self-defeating.

Turkey to become a precious asset and the EU a ‘strait-jacket’?

So why is it that Turkey should want to join an ageing EU, whose competitiveness and world standing are fast eroding, which has become so heavily dependent on outside energy resources and which is in a constant state of internal battles between the “old and new Europe”?

We need to carefully calculate exactly what accession to the EU means for us. Will it soak up our dynamism and burden us with social security responsibilities for its aging and less-than-entrepreneurial populations?

Will we be able to benefit from common agricultural policy subsidies as Spain, France, Ireland, Italy and Greece did for decades to reach their current level of development? How long will we wait for full participation in decision-making processes and for free movement of persons?

What about its empty coffers? Will there be any money left in the EU’s lucrative cohesion and infrastructure funds? What are the geopolitical implications? Will EU accession restrict our freedom in foreign policy and tie us down when it comes to moves toward Russia, Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, China and the Middle East?  We have to seriously debate these issues, ask tough questions and get definite and satisfactory answers!

One overarching argument in favor of Turkey’s accession is to embed Western values and standards in our lives. This is a great aspiration, but can we really say that such good values are found only in those 27 countries in the world? Are our own values and institutions, which await re-discovery, and which have been developed over thousands of years of social and political experience, really less valuable or less worthy of consideration?

How should negotiations be conducted?

Given that never before have there been accession negotiations that were so controversial among EU member states and so charged with uncertainties and serious political and economic impediments as the Turkish case, it is absolutely essential that both sides agree on an imaginative, constructive problem-solving approach to bring about a successful conclusion to this process — if this is the real intention.

The discussions in Brussels clearly indicated that accession negotiations would not be on the basis of a “business-as-usual” mandate with an emphasis on the acquis communautaire and Turkey’s ability to effectively apply it at the moment of entry into the EU. The attainment of European standards with respect to democratization and liberalization, as well as changing not only certain practices and legislation, but also the public and official mindsets on both sides, would be the primary goal — easier said than done.

It goes without saying that the process begun by Europe’s leaders in Brussels will have to be completed by the politicians of the future — probably during the lifetime of at least two new governments in each country. Given the high degree of domestic controversy that the Turkish dossier causes, the governments may not have any interest in keeping the Turkish accession issue visible on the public agenda until such a time that positive public perception of Turkey can be generated. Most EU leaders would prefer to put the issue on the backburner by “leaving the concrete task of preparing and conducting the negotiations mainly to the European Commission.”

Looking at ourselves in the mirror

Yes, it is really time to shake ourselves. Time to see crystal clear who we are and what our national interests are, and to place these on the scale and re-assess their relative weights. Time has come to clarify what our relations with the EU should be from our viewpoint and not as dictated by Brussels.

Pay no attention to the calls for “privileged partnership” put out there by the likes of Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel. They do not even merit a response. These are, after all, nothing but political stances, displayed by those who have perfected the art of playing to the tribunes — opinions that can go as quickly as they come.

Turkey’s case for serious consideration by the EU has often rested on broader strategic and political issues, rather than civilization-based factors. The real post-Cold War strategic significance of Turkey to Europe, most European strategists argue, lies in the problems that a less stable or more activist Turkey could create. Europe requires a stable, modernizing and democratic Turkey to keep radical Islam from Europe’s borders, they maintain. They say that the EU needs a Turkey that is cautious in its regional policies toward the Caucasus, the Balkans and the Middle East, and which seeks to avoid confrontation with Moscow and Tehran. The point is not so much what Turkey offers to Europe as what its “loss” could entail. In a certain sense, by virtue of this thinking, what Europe needs from Turkey is that it be contained, controlled and prudent.

Well, they will certainly act in their own self-interest. There is nothing wrong with this, but the important thing is what we want. A nation with a $750 billion economic powerbase, one of the largest and most influential military forces in the world, a cultural hinterland that we have become more aware of in recent years, never mind its role at the crossroads of energy routes, a nation that is a unique cornerstone in terms of its ability to synthesize western values and Islam’s traditions, as well as the north and the south.

Perhaps it needs to be said aloud that such a nation, with an imperial spine, cannot meekly consent to the capricious behavior of the authorities in Brussels and some EU capitals, nor that Turkey can be judged by the same “take it or leave it” criteria as countries such as Malta, southern Cyprus or Bulgaria.

Otherwise, no one can say just where this “open-ended” process is going to drag us to and, in fact, this whole process will continue forever, soaking up our national energy like a sponge. For now, though, let us leave these accession talks to continue at technical levels. Let’s embrace the same approach they are taking. Let’s not destroy what we have so far achieved on this front. Instead, let’s demand to see the cards in their hands and protect our own national interests as jealously as they guard theirs.

In the meantime, we should focus firmly on being not a “paper tiger,” but a real |regional power” to be reckoned with economically, militarily and democratically — one that is strong and “problem-free” in relation to its neighbors, robust against dealing with the fallout of the global depression and a power that can offer its neighbors and its own people prosperity, peace and security. Do not worry — the rest will simply follow.

Don’t judge Turkey based on how it looks today

More importantly, the EU leaders would be better off judging Turkey on the basis of its potential economic and geo-strategic importance from today to 2023 and what the future holds for Europe by then — not on the narrow and short-term interests of today. With Turkey the EU will not only achieve an immensely richer cultural diversity, but also considerable manufacturing capacity, entrepreneurship and better foreign/security policy outreach to the key regions of the world, i.e., Russia, the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and Central Asia. It is a “take it or leave it” deal for the EU, too.

Two terms of government may suffice to fundamentally change the face (and the substance) of Turkey for better, while the EU will also be going through changes and making difficult choices. One should recall that the founding father of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, accomplished the bulk of his revolutionary modernizing vision for the country in a period of just 15 years (1923-1938) between the two destructive world wars and in great deprivation.

Consider what more can be achieved over the next two decades in the era of rapid globalization. Thus, it is not science fiction to predict that both Turkey and the EU will be starkly different from what they are today and it is in their hands to shape the common future starting now, rather than speculating on the fears to come.

Let’s maximize the benefits of our strong association with the Middle East, Russia, Central Asia, the United States and the Asia-Pacific region as much as possible without being too obsessed or blinded about belonging to one club. When we arrive at 2023, will we look back at ourselves and the EU asking, “Did we make the right decisions and take the right steps at the right time?”

Hopefully, the debate I am presenting here can influence this direction positively from where we are now.


 * Mehmet Öğütçü is a Mülkiye, London School of Economics and Collège d’Europe graduate, former Turkish diplomat and senior Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) staffer and currently a major multinational corporation executive. He is also the author of “Turkey’s 2023 Roadmap” (Etkilesim, 2008) and “Does Our Future Lie with Rising Asia?” (Milliyet, 1998).