EU-Turkish relations: one step forward and two steps back

The ruling Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) spokesperson, Ömer Celik, made a statement. Celik expressed discomfort about Hahn’s remarks, saying, “Turkey is not a buffer zone for anyone’s peace or welfare.”

Full membership in the European Union is Turkey’s strategic choice and is a “state decision.” Turkey has been seeking to be an equal member of Europe since the European Union was the “European Economic Union” or the “Common Market.”

This choice or decision cannot be explained solely with respect to economic interests. First of all, it is about Turkey’s choice for democracy. As a country having an indisputable strategic importance between Europe and Asia, Turkey wants to be part of Western civilization. It does not want to be like one of the dictatorships of the Middle East.

Therefore, all governments of the Turkish Republic have tried to comply with this strategic decision of Turkey. Frankly speaking, we cannot say we have a brilliant track record in this regard. No one has questioned Turkey’s vision of being a full member of the EU, and no one has moved to make it no longer any target. Even during the coup periods, coup generals reasserted Turkey’s aspiration to become a member of Western civilization.

However, due efforts haven’t been made to attain this target, especially as regards solving the democratization problems and raising the democratic standards to European levels. Accordingly, one of the greatest contradictions and dilemmas of the Turkish governments has been to assert Turkey’s aspiration to become a full member of the EU, but fail to implement the necessary reforms.

Of course, we must note the Turgut Özal era was different in this respect. Both as prime minister and president, Özal took concrete steps to make Turkey move closer to Europe. He exerted efforts to solve Turkey’s fundamental issues, particularly including the Kurdish issue through democratic means. But his efforts were aborted.

The first two terms of the AKP governments maintained Özal’s efforts. But as the AKP became the “state” itself, it was alienated from the target of making reforms for the sake of Turkey’s EU bid.

For a while now, Turkey has been a country that has moved away from its EU bid and which is fighting with itself. In this country, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wants to be the first “Turkish-style president”; the AKP seeks to be “one party”; freedom of expression and thought is repressed; there are efforts to make the entire media sector the mouthpiece of the ruling party; religious communities are being purged; the bureaucratic staff positions are chock-full of pro-AKP people; job opportunities are limited to AKP supporters, and businessmen and the society are forced to swear allegiance to Erdogan.

Turkey is now a country where democratic efforts to settle the Kurdish and Alevi issues have been abandoned and which has become party to the Middle East’s ethnic and sectarian conflicts.

This is unfortunately what made Hahn refer to Turkey as the “guard.”

Celik’s reaction is rightly made and judicious. Yet, it is meaningless. If Turkey had been a country making progress toward democratization, EU officials would not have been able to make such remarks and it would have been unnecessary for Turkish officials to voice such reactions.


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