February 24, 2011
For the last 50 years Turkey and the EU have been toying around with EU membership. But at the beginning of 2011 they are not really advanced to the point where we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. Negotiations for accession have been going on without enthusiasm for the past five years and might be grinding down to a halt in the near future unless a miracle happened.
One miracle might come from the Turkish side on the Cyprus issue. Turkey might give a push to the negotiations on the reunification of the island, put an end to the blockade of Cypriot vessels and aircraft to and over Turkish territory and withdraw its troops on the northern part of the island, a remnant of the occupation in 1973, which has lost its justification. After a successful re-election in the autumn of 2011 PM Erdogan might be courageous. This would oblige the EU to open all chapters on the negotiation table and lend a new dynamic to the process. Though the Turkish side is not formally part of the negotiation process between Greek and Turkish Cypriots, it possesses substantive leverage on the progress of these negotiations, if only by stopping further payments to the government of the “TRNC”, recognised only by Turkey, and setting a deadline for the withdrawal of its troops. But for domestic reasons Erdogan is unlikely to take any risks. Moreover, he cannot be sure his gesture will lead to a successful conclusion of the accession negotiations. Indeed, the popular mood on Turkey`s membership in the EU is sombre.
Cyprus constitutes a pretext for France, Germany and also Austria the Netherlands, firmly opposed to Turkish membership, to delay the negotiations. France and Germany realise that Turkish membership would fundamentally change the “balance of power” within the EU and oblige them to share their leading role with another historically big power. It would end their present “duopoly”, which has governed the EU during the past 30 years, to the advantage of the Union, whatever criticism may have arisen.
With a population of more than 80 million Turkey would become the most populous EU country. It also has the ambition to become one of the 10 major economic powers in the world before the middle of the century. In the last 10 years Turkey has achieved an economic miracle without precedent in this part of the world. It has become a major regional power and would not like to forego its status as an important international player in exchange for just being one of the EU member countries supposed to have a common external and security policy.
The Turkish entry into the EU would be the kiss of death for a common EU foreign and security policy unless accession is preceded by major treaty changes, the most important of which should be QMV in foreign and security policy. A common external policy will be the major challenge for the EU in the course of the century. Without it, the EU will be increasingly marginalised. The 27 foreign ministers, especially of the bigger countries, have not yet understood that their main function in future should be the shaping of a common external policy. In the world of tomorrow there will no room for national foreign policy initiatives. As an EU member Turkey would naturally reinforce the centripetal forces in in foreign policy.
The EU would not derive major benefits from Turkish membership unless Turkey behaves as a perfectly disciplined “community pupil”, which is most unlikely in view of the bad examples offered by other member countries. On the other hand, Turkey would substantially benefit from EU membership, even if agricultural and structural funds were down-sized and if it had to accept a very long transition period before its workers might enjoy full mobility. Its main advantage would be the membership in a prestigious “club” of rich countries that continue to have influence in the world. This would enhance its standing in the world and enable it to promote its national ambitions, as other member countries have also done.
But the times have changed: the EU can no longer afford to let in new member states that will further complicate the functioning of a system that has reached its limits of efficiency. It is therefore time for the EU to revisit its enlargement strategy. Turkey has to be seen in the context of seven applicants from the Western Balkans and Iceland, which might bring total memberships to countries to 36. What does such enlargement mean for the functioning of the Union? What benefits accrue to the Union; and will these outweigh the inconveniences?
The EU should not allow as many as eight new countries to join without a prior revision of treaty provisions which are crucial for an optimal functioning of an EU of 36 members. It needs a clear vision of the size of the EP, the Commission etc. It must not wait until Croatia may have joined in 2013: the reflection should start now. The European Council should put the issue of enlargement on the agenda of one of its topical meetings before the end of the year and appoint a “committee of the wise” to prepare appropriate recommendations before the end of 2012.
One should not exclude that one of the conclusions of this exercise might be not to complete the accession negotiations with Turkey and to propose instead a privileged partnership, which would be in line with an increasingly enlargement-hostile public opinion. A Union with 28-30 countries might be the maximum compatible with the present institutional framework. Anything beyond will require treaty modifications that will be hard to pass. Above all, it is imperative not to rush negotiations but take all the time necessary for making both candidates and the Union fully fit and not to repeat the mistake of the 2007 accessions.
Author : Eberhard Rhein