Turkey is a vital partner

Turkey’s accession to the European Union is a long and winding road. Both the EU and Turkey have their stumbling blocks and difficulties. Nevertheless, there is room for much greater cooperation — apart from the EU-accession prospects.

The EU considers Turkey first and foremost as a candidate country. The relationship is one-sided and somewhat paternalistic, not based on equal partnership. The scope and perspective of accession policy is too narrow to address common problems.

The EU should critically review its stance towards and vis-à-vis Turkey. Accession process unnecessarily limits strategic partnership between the EU and Turkey. Turkey is by no means only a candidate country — it is a skilful foreign policy actor in the larger Middle East as well as in Caucasia and Central Asia, in EU’s immediate neighbourhood.

Accession should remain a long-term goal but deeper and more strategic partnership could bring added value in short- and medium term.

The partnership should be additional to the accession process, something that could bring the two actors together — despite the successes or the failures of the membership negotiations.

The Arab spring has illustrated that Turkey is a political and cultural model in much of the Muslim world. Turkey does not only have good relations with the Arab rulers but also and most importantly with the Arab peoples. This is an opportunity for Europe. Turkey can help building bridges between the EU and the people in the Muslim world.

Turkey’s ”zero-problems” foreign policy has raised some concerns. What does the zero-problems policy mean, for instance, in relations with Iran and Syria? Turkey has legitimate interests to build and maintain good and stable neighbourly relations with all its neighbours. Nonetheless, consistency in some key issues with the rest of the international society can bring added value both to the EU and Turkey.

What should the EU do with Turkey? First thing is to come to terms with the fact that Turkey is an adept and active foreign policy actor. Turkey reacts swiftly and constructively. The EU, on the other hand, is slow to make tangible foreign policy decisions. The EU is no forerunner, but Turkey seems to be. Europeans have much to learn from Turks’ entrepreneurial mindset — both in economy and in foreign policy.

Turkey is a key partner of the EU and not merely a candidate country. The EU should treat Turkey as a strategic partner, particularly in the larger Middle East but also globally.

Published in EP Today 21.6.2011