Rational Dimension of Turkey-EU relations

It is the requirement of rational politics for Turkey to have economic and political cooperation with all countries, notably with her neighbors.

The Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğans visit to Brussels after five years, then hosting French President François Hollande in Turkey – a first visit at the presidential level in the last 22 years -, Turkish President Abdullah Güls visit to Italy and then Erdoğans visit to Germany last week have made Turkey-EU relations the most visited topic of discussions lately.

Mutual perceptions of the sides have critically changed following the rapidly developing relations in the period of 2002-2005 and the start of accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU on October 3, 2005; and the resulting various problems took away the excitement felt at the time (of the negotiation start date).

At the EU front, in Germany, Gerhard Schröder, the Social Democrat Party leader who is known to approach Turkeys accession to the Union quite positively, had to leave the government to Angela Merkel who has negative impressions about Turkeys EU membership. In France, Nicolas Sarkozy, who was very negative about Turkish accession to the EU, became the president of the country. Consequently, Turkey-EU relations gradually froze.

At the Turkey front, the governing Justice and Development Party (AK Party) faced quite serious obstacles in front of its democratization moves, and had to struggle against a closure case filed against it. Turkey did not meet the expectations of Brussels when it came to the resolution of the Cyprus question, which had become a critical threshold for Turkeys accession to the Union. Eventually, the AK Party overcame the closure case, made a great leap forward in democratization and learned how to get its feet on the ground. As the AK Party government did not give much importance to the EU entry process as it used to be, bilateral relations turned icy-cold.

Unrecognized by Turkey, the Greek-Cypriot Government in South Cyprus took the helm of the EU as the new term president on July 1, 2012, and with this, Turkey-EU relations became more problematic.

Is The EU a Right Partner?

After the Greek-Cypriot term presidency ended, Sarkozy lost power in the elections and Hollande became the new president of France in 2012. Hollande, however, seems eager to revive the Turkey-EU relations.

Ankara has aimed to mitigate the negative effects of the issues she faced in the Middle East by having better communication with the EU; this played a role in rekindling Turkey-EU affairs. The developments taking place in Syria and Egypt, in particular, have shown that Turkey by herself cannot be more effective in the solution of these problems and that Ankara needs partnership in order for the formation of democratic regimes in her region.

Since the regional actors, such as Iran and Saudi Arabia, are the sides involved in the Middle East-related issues and since the United States (US) and Russia, as global actors, give the least priority to the objectives of human rights and supporting democracy in their foreign policy agendas, they are not the ideal partners Turkey needs in this particular issue.

At this point, we face a quite critical issue: Is the EU a reliable and trustworthy actor whom Turkey can have cooperation with for the solution of the Middle East-related problems in terms of protection of human rights and promotion of democracy? To answer this question, one should talk about the structure of the international system, how international relations are shaped and the EUs position in this structure.

The Structure of The International System

The preliminary fixation about the structure of the international system is that the Western world still maintains military and economic superiority since the 18th century although it has been challenged by the Far East countries, Russia, India and Brazil.

The Western world generates almost half of the worlds Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and accounts for over two thirds of the total military expenditures. The actors in the Western world have the capacity to create the biggest impact on the international system as the US and the EU take the lead among these actors. All others are susceptible to economic, military, political and cultural effects of these two actors depending on their economic and military capacities.

Owing to big steps they have taken in the economic development since the 20th century, countries such as the Peoples Republic of China and Japan have attained better protected structures against possible attacks of the Western actors. Despite their economic successes in the last decade, however, countries, such as Brazil, India, Turkey and Indonesia, feel the threats of the Western actors. All the others, having weak economy and military, are quite open to influences and manipulations of both the Western countries and other powers in their region.

After this information in a nutshell regarding the structure of the international system, an attempt to explain how international relations are structured reveals that the analyses over the concepts of international law and power policy become the simplest and easy-to-understand instruments of the science of international relations.

Instead of acting in line with the international law strong actors of the international system constantly violate the rights of relatively weak actors by using the disproportional power they have. This is a known, common fact.

However, many believe that if all these actors act in accordance with the international law, wars would be prevented and that peace would be spread around even if "eternal peace" may be impossible. At this point, we see the EU experience as an example worth paying attention to.

It is also a known fact that Europe, comparing to other regions, waged serious wars and became a scene of serious feuds. Europes being the center of the World War I and II is a crystal-clear indicator of such a past of conflicts. In the last two centuries, Germany and France have taken the stage as the leading actors who struggle for the leadership of the Continental Europe. Witnesses of the latest devastating war, the World War II, are still alive and this, in fact, shows that the past of the skirmishes stretches until quite recently.

Is Europe a Peace Oasis?

Although it has so many conflicts in its past, Europe has learned lessons from its history, tried to end these conflicts and launched an integration process to have peace and prosperity, which has been in effect in the last 60 years. This is a development that all other regions in the world should take as an example. Despite all differences of opinions and conflicts of interests, six countries united at the axis of Germany-France in 1951 to start the integration movement in Europe. Today, this movement has 28 member states and become a respectable sphere of regional law. There is no risk of infighting among these 28 countries including Germany and France. Turkey and other countries in the Middle East and in the world should follow Europes lead and exert efforts to form similar oasis of peace. This can be done and the EUs past of so many conflicts sets a proof. It only requires having patient and decisive leaders and bureaucrats, such as Robert Schuman, Jean Monnet and Konrad Adenauer, at the forefront.

The EUs Different Faces

Following these fixations, it would be illuminating to underline a few characteristics of the EU that Turkey should consider while formulating her EU policies:

1-The EU is the strongest economic power of the world today. It has the capacity to influence the world economy and its 16.7 trillion GDP leaves that of the US behind according to the 2012 calculations. In terms of military perspective, however, the EU falls way behind the US. The EUs military expenditure is about $250 billion compared to $650 billion of the US. On the other hand, the EU leads China and Russia in the military expenditures. We see that some EU countries, the Britain and France in particular, do not hesitate to exercise their military capabilities in cross-border regions.

Turkey should be particularly aware of the EUs economic power and should not forget about being a neighbor of this power which often follows interventionist policies – both in positive and negative senses – towards her neighbors. Therefore, Turkey should develop her EU policy accordingly and act accordingly.

2-The EUs another characteristic is that it is quite incapable of speaking as one voice in foreign policy. Here, the Union, compared to the US, China and Russia, fails to fully reflect its economic and military power in its foreign policy. In this perspective, the EUs attitude towards foreign policy issues is sporadic and the most typical example of this is the issue of Turkeys membership to the Union.

As some EU countries object to Turkeys accession, some others believe Turkeys membership is vital for the EU. Moreover, this view differs according to government changes in some member countries. Therefore, Turkey should act knowingly while shaping her EU policy just as the views of the EU members vary about Turkeys membership bid.

Although counter examples do exist, the EU is an actor more open to cooperation than other global actors such as the US, China and Russia as far as the protection of human rights and the promotion of democracy are concerned. During the coup détats in Algeria and Egypt, influential actors in the EU acted against the Unions discourse on human rights and democracy; however, the EU countries, in general, act more sincerely than the above global powers in terms of having respect for the international law.

The report card of the EU countries are better than the aforementioned countries given the recognition of the International Criminal Courts judicial authority, legal regulations on the environment protection and the establishment of the European Human Rights Court, which is the most effective step taken ever in the subject matter. All these moves show Turkey that, despite some discrepancies there are some actors in Europe with whom Turkey would seek cooperation for protection of democracy and the international law.

In this case, Ankara should concentrate on having sound relations with decent European circles instead of focusing on what some member countries say and do disfavoring Turkey, or against Turkeys membership, and on those who do not give importance to developing relations on the basis of equality. This relation should not be emotional but rational as much as possible in order to seek utmost mutual interests.

It is know that both in Turkey and the EU, there are some skeptics whose behaviors cannot be explained by any rational justifications. However, it is the requirement of rational politics for Turkey to be involved in economic and political cooperation with all countries, starting with her neighbors. The EU cannot turn away from Turkey just because some circles in Turkey are against the EU accession and vice versa.

On the one hand, Turkey should always be aware and prepared in the face of various activities in the EU against her political and economic stability, and on the other hand, should be open to any kind of cooperation with circles who do not impose their own politics and projections on Turkey.

One should not forget that friendship and hostilities in international relations are temporary. What is real and durable is interests and cooperation for the protection of interests.

Resource:Star Açık Görüş, February 02, 2014 Translated by Handan Öz