EU-Turkey Relations: a Viennese Waltz Made to Last

Like every year, the European Union (EU) came up with its yearly progress reports, which highlight deficiencies, but also positive developments in the different countries striving for full EU-membership.

The intricacy between the EU and Turkey has reached such a point that Ankara does pay acute attention to the yearly progress report.

Both sides have been embroiled in one another’s daily life, do know and do care  for each other. Ties exist at multiple levels and concern internal, (e.g. people of Turkish background all around Europe, mainly in Germany) as well as external policy issues (e.g. the Customs Union or in the framework of NATO).

The image one gets from the EU-Turkey couple is that of dance partners: sometimes very close, sometimes a bit further away from one another. However, they cannot continue proceeding without each other: the already reached sophistication in their mutual moves makes it nearly impossible to step out of the given dance pace.

The EU and Turkey have been close partners for decades.

Since the inception of the Republic, Ankara made its anchorage to the West very clear. Following the Second World War (WWII), Turkey continued following the same track and got involved in all major European or Western-oriented institutional frameworks. From the Ankara Agreement of 1963 until the kick-start of the EU-accession negotiations in 2005, many milestones were gradually set into place. Until the latest progress report, the picture of the Turkish accession process was that of a stalemate. The 2013 edition brought fresh air in a longstanding and intimate relation.

The EU yearly progress report on Turkey, issued on October 16, shed necessary light on remaining shortages and noticeable improvements, concerning Ankara’s long-stalled path to full EU-membership. Elements such as participatory democracy, or the inadequate use of force in the management of the Gezi Park protests last summer came up rather negatively.

Turkey still has one of the highest thresholds in the world for political parties to enter Parliament, namely 10%; there are ongoing talks to lower it down to 5%, which would increase the degree of representativeness within the Turkish Parliament. Next to this, the crackdown on protesters around Turkey, from May 2013 onwards, triggered fierce reactions on Europeans benches. Indeed, the violence with which the Turkish police treated demonstrators was inappropriate and non-justifiable.

Nevertheless, Ankara has continued reforming in a number of key areas and the EU recognises this matter of fact. Accordingly, the European Commission (EC), via its Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle, has confidently reiterated the significance of reviving the flame in EU-Turkey relations. The latter repeated the central character of the EU as a benchmark for Turkey, notably with regards to fundamental rights and freedoms.

Because this year’s report was published on the 16th of October, coincidentally the same day as Kurban Bayrami, the Feast of Sacrifice, Ankara responded to the publication in the following weekend. In comparison to previous issues, the 2013 progress report on Turkey did not trigger the usual enflamed reactions from the Turkish side; rather, a more conciliatory tone was taken, with weighted up comments expressed from Turkey’s EU Ministry.

Last but not least, a positive sign swiftly accompanied the publication, as well as a  warm reception of the report, in Turkey and in the EU institutions: the European Commission decided to speed up the opening of chapter 22 (the 14th out of 35 to be opened) on ‘regional development’, after a three-year standstill.

To cut a long story short, Turkey and the EU have been able to maintain and gradually increase their half a century long level of embroilment.

Consequently, definite intimacy accompanies Ankara’s EU-bid: historical, social, political and economic elements closely connect the two partners. Both can be proud of all efforts invested in their long-dated relations. The 2013 Turkey progress report rightly revived somnolent energy.

The rather formal though inspiring rhythm of the Vienna Waltz, under the sound of which the EU-Turkey dancers unite, was composed to last. Each now has to show the other partner the extent to which they enjoy and benefit from mutually regulated moves, allowing the relation to smoothly keep up the pace.


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