Military and politics

It’s really no surprise that the European Union and topics surrounding Turkey’s quest for accession are barely mentioned on election platforms and in manifestos. The talks, which have been going for 10 years now, are at an impasse the entire concept of membership has lost most of its believability for people. The process itself, which officially began back in December 1999 with the Helsinki Summit, has fallen so far into the background that even the press hardly deigns to touch it these days.

In the meantime, the relative lack of interest in the entire issue is vividly reflected in the election manifestos and platforms we are hearing these days from various political parties. Unlike a decade ago, the EU is no longer being linked broadly with topics like peace, democracy, social and basic rights, and economic development and prosperity. At most, the EU and the topic of a possible Turkish membership fall under the category of “foreign policy” in election platforms. And in that category, the quest for accession is not included in the first sentences, but sprinkled lightly into later paragraphs.

Quite a few factors come into play where the EU’s fall from the Turkish agenda is concerned. Moreover, the fact that the opposition has not made more of an issue out of the government’s weak performance during Brussels talks is inextricably linked to certain EU-derived problems. Perhaps the most important factor in play was the rhetoric about how “Turkey is not in Europe” this message was spread far and wide by former French leader Nicolas Sarkozy, and it wound up causing five critical accession chapters to get stuck in veto processes. Much of the Turkish public is convinced — and rightly so — that many of the EU politicians who remained silent in the face of Sarkozy’s rhetoric actually share his views on this matter. Also, the EU’s stance when it comes to Cyprus has made it difficult for Turkish opposition parties to criticize the ruling party on the topic of accession talks. Brussels has shown nothing but one-sidedness and inconsistency, and has ultimately wound up alienating Northern Cyprus, despite the latter’s support for the United Nations project. Yet another factor making things more complicated when it comes to Turkey and the EU is the economic crisis, particularly the Greek situation. Voices on the right and the left of the Turkish vista point out now that the EU, rather than being the font of prosperity and development that many had professed it to be, might in fact end up being a source of crisis, or perhaps the main factor responsible for an economic crisis. To further this view, many influential Justice and Development Party (AKP) politicians, as well as journalists writing for the pro-government media, talk frequently of the “collapsing West” these days, reflecting a possible revival of the old Welfare Party (RP) spirit. Some better known leftist journalists, like Korkut Boratav, write similarly of the coming demise of the West. In short, these are all factors that play neatly into the barely present topic of the EU, and Turkish accession to this bloc, in election literature and debate. In the meantime, the pro-Kurdish Peoples’ Democratic Party’s (HDP) treatment of the EU has been, perhaps, the briefest compared to the other parties on the Turkish political spectrum. They say: “We will examine the ongoing EU accession talks and work towards full membership as a part of our principles.” But, in fact, this notably brief mention of a possible EU membership in the HDP election manifesto does not reflect a lack of interest, but rather, an extremely brief manifesto in general, with many important topics being relegated to one sentence or so. Interestingly, when it comes to topics like lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT), minority, social and other basic rights, the HDP is in many ways the Turkish party closest to the Copenhagen criteria. Also, let’s not forget that it’s Kurdish voters who are perhaps the most sensitive on the topic of the EU. Despite this, the HDP really does not give over much space in its election manifesto to Turkish accession. The Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) appears to have chosen a strategy that some would typify as being anti-HDP. The MHP manifesto stands in opposition to the pluralistic, pro-regional government and pro-minority stance adopted by the HDP. In contrast, the MHP uses terms like “single” and “sole” repeatedly. One sentence from its platform reads thus: “…single state, single flag, single people, single state, single language.” For the MHP, clearly, a “Turkey which is at the center of Eurasian geopolitics” comes before a Turkey which is an EU member. But just as one might imagine that the MHP has essentially decided to completely pass over the entire issue of a potential EU membership, we come across this sentence from its election manifesto, which could almost be read as being outright anti-EU: “Our party does not see relations with the EU as being, for Turkey, a problem of identity and fate.’ Rather, we reiterate that Turkey is not obligated to or condemned to be dragged into the EU trajectory.” Of course, it is also impossible to figure out just how sincere the MHP’s proposal that the only option in terms of Turkish relations with the EU would be a full membership. According to the MHP, “The basis of our policy with regards to the EU is that, for as long as the partnership talks do not harm Turkey’s interests, they should continue on the condition that no other option but full EU membership is viable.” No doubt when the MHP mentioned “partnership talks” it is was actually referring to “membership talks.” Let me leave my comparisons of the AKP’s and the CHP’s treatment of the EU topic for a later column.