On January 28, GMF's Berlin office hosted the Independent Commission on Turkey for a presentation and discussion of its recent report, "Turkey in Europe: Breaking the Vicious Circle". The event featured Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Peace Laureate of 2008 and former President of Finland; Emma Bonino,Vice President of the Italian Senate and former European Commissioner; Hans van den Broek, former Foreign Minister of the Netherlands and former European Commissioner; and Albert Rohan, former Secretary General at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Austria. Karl-Heinz Klär, State Secretary of Federal and European Affairs of Rhineland-Palatinate, provided introductory remarks. GMF Senior Program Officer Joerg Forbrig moderated the discussion.
For more than a decade since December 1999, Turkey has been a candidate for membership in the European Union. After a promising start, however, the latter half of that decade has seen a significant loss in momentum in the rapprochement between Turkey and the EU. Accession talks have only been completed on one of 35 thematic chapters and remain underway in a few more but have been blocked by the EU for the large remainder. Voices have been on the rise in various parts of the EU establishment, advocating forms of partnership with Turkey that exclude membership, thus reinforcing the perception in Turkey that the country is not wanted in the EU. In turn, the resolution among Turkey's elites to forcefully pursue the domestic reform process is seen to have weakened, while support for EU membership has declined dramatically in the last years to less than half of the population, according to GMF's recent Transatlantic Trends survey.
This chilling of relationships, ironically, contrasts with the growing strategic importance of Turkey in the last years. The security constellation in the broader Middle East, including Iraq and Iran, hinges on a stable and Western-oriented Turkey, no less than European energy security depends crucially on the Turkish participation in the Nabucco pipeline. These and other strategic aspects highlight the importance of Turkey as an integral part of the transatlantic and European community.
As Martti Ahtisaari pointed out, it was in response to this twin dynamic of a slowing EU integration of Turkey and the country's growing strategic importance that the Independent Commission on Turkey was established. Bringing together seasoned European leaders and policymakers, it aims to contribute to a more objective and rational debate on Turkey's EU accession. In its first report in September 2004, the Commission "examined the long history of Turkey's convergence with Europe as well as the major opportunities and challenges connected with Turkey's possible EU membership." Building on this positive assessment, the recently published second report traces the performance of both Turkey and the EU in the accession negotiations that ensued since.
In their presentations, Commission members provided a detailed record of the complex dynamics that characterize EU-Turkey relationships. These include the problematic, and often unfair, treatment by EU policy circles where doubts have become increasingly vocal whether membership for Turkey is indeed desirable. This has added to uncertainties among Turkish elites as to whether or not the transformation process should be further pursued. The Cyprus issue remains a major external bone of contention, according to Hans van den Broek, while Albert Rohan underscored the importance of the Kurdish question as the key determinant of Turkey's internal stability. In the face of these obstacles, it is often overlooked that Turkey has made considerable headway on several accounts, including an ongoing normalization of relations with its neighbors, and the critical importance Turkey holds for moderate Muslims in the world. This cultural dimension of Turkey in Europe was further elaborated by Emma Bonino who stressed that Europe's views of Turkey remain limited by a considerable intolerance.
It seems that EU-Turkey relations have reached an impasse. In order to break the vicious circle that has emerged in recent years, Commission members presented a comprehensive list of recommendations that take to task EU and Turkish decision-makers alike. Such combined efforts on both sides will be necessary, as the EU and Turkey can only succeed together. Or as the Commission report notes: "To ensure a continuation of Turkey's transformation its European perspective must be preserved."
Detailed information on the Independent Commission on Turkey as well as its recent report "Turkey in Europe: Breaking the Vicious Circle" is available at http://www.independentcommissiononturkey.org/.