Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said in July during a press conference in Istanbul with his German counterpart Guido Westerwelle that Turkey sees its future in Europe. He nevertheless felt the need to add that these ties required “a new strategic vision” if they are to progress. Davutoglu was correct, of course, in pointing to the need for a new approach in order to reenergize Turkish-European cooperation. It is not clear, however, how the “vision” he talked about can be created while the EU is embroiled in crises of existential proportions.
Meanwhile, the Cyprus issue has led to the stalling of Turkish membership talk, thus shaking confidence in the EU for most Turks. The Greek half of the island was admitted to the EU despite its rejection of the 2004 Annan peace agreements. A move that seemed to illustrate anti-Turkish bias within the EU for many Turks. The fact that Turkish Cypriots, who accepted the Annan Plan, got nothing from the EU for their efforts only served to crystallize this belief.
But the Cyprus issue is not the only obstacle in front of Turkey’s membership bid. Some EU members are against admitting Turkey they don’t consider the country be a part of Europe. One of these, France, went further and unilaterally blocked five chapters in the membership talks on the grounds that they pertain to full membership. In other words, even if the Cyprus issue is resolved, Ankara’s path into the EU will face further obstacles. Hence, more and more Turks believe their country should be looking elsewhere for economic and political partnerships.
Former US Secretary of Defense Robert Gates criticized Europe harshly, just prior to retiring, for having driven Ankara away from the West, which he believes was a strategic mistake. Some in the West argue, however, that it is the advent of an “Islamist government” that is the reason why Turkey is drifting away. However, it is pretty obvious that the Justice and Development Party (AKP) did everything possible after it came to power to ensure that full membership talks with the EU started. If Europe had acted fairly after this, it is more than likely that the AKP would have continued to proactively push for membership despite its Islamic origins. When reactions from Europe turned negative, the AKP lost its enthusiasm as well.
Meanwhile, serious internal problems shake the foundations of the European Union. It will take years to move beyond the current crisis. And it seems unlikely that Turkey (which has attained critical mass in strategic and economic terms and is therefore less dependent on the EU) will wait as Europe works out a new future for itself. The world is changing too rapidly for anyone to sit idly by.
In the long run, however, the increasing political distance will negatively affect both sides, although it might take Europe years to overcome irrational fears of “the Turk”. As the historian Barbara Tuchman has pointed out, history is a march of folly.
There are of course EU members who see this and wonder with concern where Europe and the world are headed. They understand why Turkish-European relations will remain important in the future. But the day is clearly not theirs. These members are nevertheless the thin threat that keeps Turkey and the EU together today, despite the difficulties in overall ties. How long this can be maintained given the present atmosphere remains to be seen.