Turkey still intents to attain EU membership. Since 1999, the perspective of joining the EU has acted as a strong stimulus for change and transformation in all dimensions of the country. Despite its continuing problems, such as political polarization, restrictions on freedom of expression, independence of the judiciary, status of women in society, regional imbalances etc. the country has started to mobilize its potential with increasing productivity and competitiveness of its economy, dynamic workforce, and increasing international clout. It became more active in its international relations, implementing a strategy of constructive engagement in its neighborhood, as it feels freed from inhibitions and acts with a renewed self-confidence.
Rapid socioeconomic development
In the last years, Turkey’s approach was shaped not only by distancing itself from Europe due to the rapid socioeconomic development, more importantly, it was influenced by the EU’s approach to Turkey: Largely determined by inward-looking and exclusionary policies spearheaded by Sarkozy and Merkel. The EU’s questioning of Turkey’s European credentials and the blockage of accession talks due to the Cyprus issue led to disillusionment regarding the European ideal. As a reaction on the part of Turkey, it sought compensating strategies in the international arena. The global and regional developments during the latter half of the last decade also spurred Turkey to turn its attention to the East; while the EU was preoccupied with its economic problems and internal crisis related to the Euro area.
Role model for the Middle East
Although Europe’s role as a model for Turkey declined over the last couple of years, European norms and standards continue to constitute a reference point for Turkey. Whenever a critical threshold is being surpassed, Europe acts as a touchstone and a guiding light. This happened in the 2010 referendum for the amendment of the constitution and regarding discussions about the legality and procedural soundness of the “Ergenekon”:http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ergenekon_(organization) and related cases about alleged coup attempts, as well as the Kurdish question.
While Turkey is frequently referred to as a role model for the Middle East and Muslim countries, its own ideal is to catch up with the most advanced countries of the world and become influential itself. This requires the country’s identification with the European area in terms of standards and norms of democracy, human rights, welfare and development.
Turkey cannot ignore or sacrifice Europe considering its ongoing democratization process as well as the importance of its economic and commercial relations with the EU. Europe still constitutes the most sophisticated and prosperous market for Turkey’s export-oriented economy. Moreover, the already advanced relations between Turkey and the EU, including the customs union, cooperation in foreign and security policy and fighting against irregular immigration, can no longer be managed on the basis of association or some form of privileged partnership only.
A solution that is both rational and desirable would be for Turkey to participate in the decision-making structure of the EU and to take its rightful place in the system of European governance. This would mean the realization of Turkey’s EU membership based equally on Turkey’s fulfillment of membership requirements (by speeding up internal reforms) as well as the EU’s fair-play and genuine support to Turkey’s integration as a full member.