Turkey and the EU: Looking Beyond the Pessimisms

David Phinnemore, Erhan İçener
Content Type
Journal Article
Insight Turkey
Issue Number
Publication Date
Summer 2014
SETA Foundation for Political, Economic and Social Research
This paper analyses the reasons for frustration and pessimism about Turkey-EU relations. It focuses on the impact of the crisis in Europe, the 2014 EP elections and selection of Jean- Claude Juncker for the Commission President post on Turkey\'s EU accession process. Finally, the paper tries to answer how the currentpessimism over Turkey-EU relations can be overcome.
Political Geography
Europe, Turkey, Arabia
Frustration and pessimism dominate the mood in Turkey about the current status of relations with the European Union (EU) and the future of accession negotiations. The negotiations, which started in October 2005, continue at a snail\'s pace due to political blockages and the Cyprus issue. So far, 14 (out of 35) chapters have been opened and only one chapter provisionally closed. As a result, not least of the lessons learnt from the 2004 and 2007 enlargements, conditionality continues to evolve and accession becomes more difficult. Moreover, the EU remains consumed by debates about enlargement fatigue and integration capacity, particularly where Turkey is concerned. Lingering hopes of progress have been further undermined by the ongoing economic crisis. Further negativity has gained ground owing to the increased support that anti-EU and Eurosceptic parties received in the 2014 European Parliament (EP) elections, combined with the decreasing levels of popular support generally for European integration and further enlargement. Most recently, eyebrows have been raised by the call from Jean-Claude Juncker, the incoming Commission President, for a five-year break from enlargement. Many informed observers of European integration and enlargement understand the reasons for frustration but rarely share the feelings of outright pessimism for the future of Europe. The history of European integration is a messy history of ups and downs but with the EU muddling through crises and integrating further as a result. Despite the talk of - and in some instances wishful thinking about - disintegration, the EU has responded to the Eurozone crisis with further integration and moves towards substantive banking, fiscal, and economic union. And Croatia\'s accession to the EU, in July 2013, proved that debates on the death of enlargement are misplaced. So too does the progress towards the normalization of relations between Kosovo and Serbia, which became possible thanks to the lure of EU membership. Moreover, Montenegro and Serbia have started accession negotiations, in June 2012 and January 2014 respectively; Albania has recently been granted candidate status; and Moldova, Georgia, and Ukraine have signed association agreements with the EU, an important step towards the possibility of membership. The 2014 EP Election: No Good News for Turkey? One should not be overly pessimistic about the results of the EP elections. The vote for the mainstream parties in the EP did decline and Eurosceptic parties, especially the Front National in France and the United Kingdom Independence Party, scored remarkably well. However, despite the relative successes of Eurosceptic and far-right parties, the center-right European People\'s Party (EPP) and the center-left Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats are still the dominant groupings in the EP. Between them, they secured 54.86 percent of the seats. When the seats of the Greens/European Free Alliance and the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe are added, the percentage of seats for pro-EU parties in the EP rises to 70.44 percent. Moreover, the remaining Eurosceptic and anti-EU parties do not form a coherent bloc in the EP. They cannot be ignored, but their potential to impact significantly on the future of Europe debate can be - and has been - exaggerated, not least by those fearful of - and in some cases hoping for - disintegration.