....many of Ankara’s long-term foreign policy objectives would get an important boost from a meaningful partnership with the EU. Turkey’s plan to turn itself into a major transit hub for oil and gas would be handicapped if the country were not fully integrated into Europe’s common energy policy and pipeline network. Meanwhile, Ankara’s plans to turn itself into a regional soft power broker, particularly in the Middle East, are tied up in being able to present Turkey as a “bridge” to Europe. Making that bridge easier to cross, something EU membership would do, would further enhance Turkey’s claim to being a country that spans East and West.
More significantly, EU membership will help Turkey overcome its domestic differences, which stand as the largest hurdle towards Ankara realizing the ambitious goals it has set out for itself. Ultimately, joining the EU—or at least meaningfully engaging in a process that would lead towards membership—offers Turkey the best chance at developing a political system that can successfully manage those dangerous divisions and blunt their impact.
Indeed, it’s important not to underestimate what a difference simply being engaged in the EU process over the last decade has made for Turkey in terms of developing civil society, strengthening institutions and the rule of law, and forming a polity that is learning to recognize and accept differences. The opening of EU-funded small business support centers in some of Turkey’s most impoverished areas and the training of lawyers and judges by European counterparts are not the kinds of trends that make headlines. Yet, they are the kind of low-profile projects that have helped make an impact on how the country operates.
Meanwhile, considering Turkey’s limited experience with true democracy—with its history of military coups, powerful nationalism and intense division based along ethnic lines—the promise of joining the EU has created am impetus for enacting reforms that the country might not have otherwise been implemented.
Joining the EU, as one analyst recently put it, is an essential part of Turkey becoming a member in good standing of the “rules and regulations community.” It sounds boring and it is boring. But after four coups and decades of bitter infighting, perhaps what Turkey needs is a bit less political turmoil and excitement, and a bit more of the boring stuff.
You can read the full piece here. Also, be sure to read Nicholas Birch's excellent Al Majalla cover story, which looks at the interplay between Turkey's growing trade and political involvement in the Middle East. The magazine also has two more takes on the Turkey-EU question, one by Huseyin Bagci, a professor at Ankara's Middle East Technical University, and Erdgal Guven, a columnist at Radikal. You can find their pieces here.