Last weekend’s parliamentary election in Turkey produced unsurprising results, with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Justice and Development Party (AKP) claiming victory with nearly 50 percent of the vote.
As world leaders congratulate the AKP on its three-term success, they are also assessing the implications for their countries’ future relationship with Turkey. The European Union, in particular, will need to determine where the Turkish accession process is headed.
Turkey has seen little progress on the road to Brussels. Since negotiations began in 2006, only one chapter out of 35 (science and research) of the acquis communautaire has been closed. All 35 chapters must be closed before the EU can even take a vote on Turkish accession. Twelve chapters have been opened, but of these, eight are blocked.
Despite the deepening frustration between Ankara and Brussels, Jose Manuel Barroso, president of the European Commission, and Herman Van Rompuy, president of the European Council, issued the following statement congratulating Erodgan on his recent victory:
We congratulate you on the outcome of the general elections held on 12 June.
The results open the way to further strengthening Turkey’s democratic institutions, as well as to the continued modernisation of the country, in line with European values and standards. We are convinced the coming period offers new opportunities for further reforms, including work on a new constitution in the broadest possible consultation and a spirit of dialogue and compromise, and for strengthening confidence between Turkey and all EU Member States. Progress in these fields should also give new impetus to the accession negotiations with the European Union.
We remain committed to enhancing our dialogue and co-operation to the benefit of our citizens and our region, and would welcome you to Brussels at your earliest convenience.
The European Union is giving false hope to Turkey, and the Turkish population isn’t buying the EU’s platitudes and shallow encouragement. To talk of “strengthening confidence between member states and Turkey” is cheap, especially as suspicion abounds that several member states, including France and Germany, are blocking chapters of the acquis communautaire because they ultimately don’t want Turkey to join.
Since 2002, Turkish public support for joining the EU has dropped significantly, from 65 percent to just 47 percent at present. In a sign of growing dissatisfaction with the EU accession process and increased confidence in Ankara, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator Egeman Ba?i? has stated that “the EU needs Turkey more than we [Turkey] need them.”
The AKP’s lack of deference to the EU but continued engagement with the accession process has afforded it the opportunity to cherry-pick from EU-directed reforms and enact only those laws that reinforce its political power base and undermine Turkey’s military and judiciary—the traditional defenders of secular Republicanism.
This strategy allows Erdogan to balance his own ideological preferences with his Western interests. For example, Turkey continues to regard Hamas as legitimate political party, whereas the United States and European Union classify it as a terrorist organization. Such diverging issues place strain on Turkey’s relationship with the West.
The European Union is alienating Turkey. If negotiations remain stagnant, Brussels risks further deterioration of relations and allowing the AKP to pursue its creeping autocratic policies at home. Both sides should negotiate fairly and be honest about their objectives to stop Turkey’s drift from the West.