Obituary for Turkey’s EU Accession Process

January 7, 2017

Turkey remains in diplomatic isolation. Once, the government called this “precious loneliness”, a price Ankara was prepared to pay no matter what for its “principled foreign policy”. However, this policy of needless defiance coupled with the decline of Turkish democracy has become unsustainable.

Our relations with Washington are at an all-time low.

Despite the agreement to buy Russian S-400 missile systems, the recent upping of the ante on President Assad shows that differences over Syria remain. And, the question of PYD/YPG participation at the Syrian Congress on National Dialogue to be held in the Black Sea resort of Sochi seems unsettled. As the seven-year Syrian conflict has unmistakably shown, opposition groups and terrorist organizations have often been able to change names, partner with each other in different ways to maximize their interests.

In the broad Middle East, Turkey’s unreserved support for the Muslim Brotherhood has been costly. Our only friends seem to be Qatar and Sudan. International Criminal Court’s official website states the following on the Sudanese President: “The first warrant for arrest for Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir was issued on 4 March 2009, the second on 12 July 2010. The suspect is still at large.”

And, relations with the EU have for long been deadlocked.

President Erdogan’s visit to Paris last Friday was essentially designed to show that Ankara is not diplomatically isolated. There could not possibly be any realistic expectation that the visit could help relaunch the EU accession process. With German-Turkish relations also at a low point and Berlin’s coalition talks still inconclusive, France’s assertive President Macron must have been seen by Ankara as the host of choice at this particular juncture.

At the joint press conference of the two leaders, President Erdoğan mentioned the centuries-old relationship between Turkey and France. He referred to Mr. Macron as his friend, thanked the people of France for their welcome.

Mr. Macron was as explicit in his remarks as a good host could possibly be. He started by dwelling upon the positive, the importance of Turkey’s being a NATO member and a party to the European Convention on Human Rights. He mentioned the two countries’ excellent cooperation in the combat against terrorism. He underlined that France considers the PKK a terrorist organization. He expressed satisfaction at the signing of the agreement on an anti-missile defense project between Turkey and the French-Italian consortium Eurosat as well as the signing of a declaration of intent for the purchase of Airbus planes. He referred to other specific items in the context of increased economic cooperation. He mentioned Jerusalem being the capital of both the Israelis and the Palestinians. All of this must have pleased his Turkish guests.

But then, underlining that two leaders had a very frank discussion on the issue of Turkey’s relations with the EU, the French President said that “recent developments and choices” do not allow for any headway in the accession process. By “developments and choices” he must have meant the decline of Turkish democracy and the referendum marking the end of our parliamentary system. While stressing the importance of Turkey’s remaining “anchored” in the Europe, he stated that the EU and Turkey need to put behind the hypocrisy of pretending that the process could move forward through the opening of new negotiating chapters. Choosing his words carefully, he also criticized the EU for having led Turkey to believe in things that were impossible, meaning accession. Finally, he expressed his preference, in the light of today’s realities, for concentrating on what was doable, a new partnership.

There can be little doubt that Paris and Berlin consulted each another before the visit and what President Macron said regarding the EU accession process reflects the position of EU’s two leading members and actually the EU’s common position. To put it bluntly, the accession process is over and done with. The only remaining question is finding ways and means of keeping Turkey anchored in Europe through the recurring theme of a “special/privileged partnership”; cooperating where possible without having to share the same European home.

Shakespeare’s Lady Macbeth famously said “what is done cannot be undone”. Beyond the EU accession process, Turkey’s eight-year democratic decline and a series of major foreign policy mistakes, particularly our involvement in the Syrian conflict, have done irrepairable harm to Turkey’s global standing and its national interests.

Can this damage be undone? At best, partly. In principle, where there’s a will, there’s a way. Indeed, if there is a will, we can start by returning to the democratic path which means going back to parliamentary system, restoring the rule of law and fulfilling the obligations we have assumed under the European Convention of Human Rights. The problem is there is no will. We are polarized and half the nation believes that we are doing just great. Regardless, laying Turkey’s EU project formally in its grave will be an unpleasant task even for this government.

About Ali Tuygan

Ali Tuygan is a graduate of the Faculty of Political Sciences of Ankara University. He joined the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in January 1967. Between various positions in Ankara, he served at the Turkish Embassy in Brussels, NATO International Staff, Turkish Embassies in Washington and Baghdad, and the Turkish Delegation to NATO. From 1986 to 1989 he was the Principal Private Secretary to the President of the Republic. He then served as ambassador to Ottawa, Riyadh, and Athens. In 1997 he was honored with a decoration by the Italian President. Between these assignments abroad he served twice as Deputy Undersecretary for Political Affairs. In 2004 he was appointed Undersecretary where he remained until the end of 2006 before going to his last foreign assignment as Ambassador to UNESCO. He retired in 2009. In April 2013 he published a book entitled “Gönüllü Diplomat, Dışişlerinde Kırk Yıl” (“Diplomat by Choice, Forty Years in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs”) in which he elaborated on the diplomatic profession and the main issues on the global agenda. He has published articles in Turkish periodicals and newspapers.
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