Turkey’s EU bid no longer ‘non-negotiable’

Interview by Xi Chen, Hurriyet Daily News, 3 October 2010

Turkey is in search of an era of new politics in international relations and might even withdraw its European Union bid in the next three to five years if membership remains ungranted, a London-based Turkish researcher has said.

In a report named “The Prospects for Turkey” published last month by the Legatum Institute, Ziya Meral outlines the changes that Turkey has been going through since the late 1990s both in domestic and foreign politics. He describes these changes as a “metamorphosis” for the nation.

The report concludes that this turbulent process of change is key to further development of democracy in Turkey and to “Turkish adaptation to the realities of the 21st century.”

In domestic politics, Meral argues that there are two sets of problems facing Turkey: “actual problems,” such as the Kurdish issue, and ”engineered problems,” such as the ideological battle between political parties that polarize the society along the lines of secular versus religious.

According to Meral, the rise of the Justice and Development Party, or AKP, eight years ago was precisely because the party could represent the “common reality” of Turkey, enforcing pro-market, pro-EU policies while remaining socially conservative.

“The AKP has unleashed the changes but it has not achieved its objectives,” Meral told the Hürriyet Daily News & Economic Review. He said he believes an era of new politics is needed in Turkey as “politicians need to be creative and re-imagine themselves under the new reality rather than falling back into the old discourse.”

Moving toward independence

In a maturing democracy, “votes could no longer be taken for granted in a society that showed an increasing pattern of non-ideological and rational voting for parties which can offer solutions,” the report said.

In the global arena, Meral foresees Turkey being a more “independent actor.” He argues that the government, after the 2011 general elections, will likely “switch” its EU policy, as “Turks increasingly feel humiliated by the prolonged process.”

“The EU is a political vision and Turkey will be a key in it. However, the same EU has grown into a giant bureaucratic machine with a lot of problems. In the end, what does the EU have to offer to Turkey?” Meral asked. He said he believes EU membership is no longer “non-negotiable” in the Turkish policy agenda.

The Legatum report concludes that “a proactive Turkey with a pragmatic foreign policy seeking to expand its economic and diplomatic ties in the Balkans, the Middle East and Central Asia has so much to offer not only to an unstable region but also for the U.S. and EU.”