Turkey’s EU bid faces opportunities and challenges in 2013
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times
Developments in Turkey and the EU could present fresh opportunities for Ankara’s accession bid in 2013, provided that each side is ready to address long-term challenges together.
The ruling AKP introduced a series of democratizing reforms early in its tenure, leading the EU to officially open negotiations with Turkey in 2005. But the process stumbled to a halt in the following years, with only one negotiating chapter closed of 13 opened.
Of the remaining 20 chapters, 17 have been blocked by EU countries, with no new ones opened since 2010. Meanwhile, Turkey has boycotted the EU during the Republic of Cyprus’s six-month presidency of the body that began in July 2012.
Most analysts agree that both sides bear responsibility for the deadlock. Some leaders of EU member states have prejudiced the outcome of negotiations by voicing opposition to Turkish membership, offering an ill-defined “privileged partnership” in its place.
For its part, Turkey has failed to open its ports to EU member Cyprus. Its human rights record has also drawn criticism, with the Committee to Protect Journalists asserting that Ankara imprisons more journalists than any other government in the world.
But in recent remarks to the press, Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc expressed regret over the issue of imprisoned journalists, hinting that Turkey might facilitate their release by making changes to its anti-terrorism law.
In addition, Turkish officials are hopeful that Ireland’s ascension to the rotating EU presidency in January will allow the parties to build on past successes, particularly the “positive agenda” announced by the European Commission in 2011, which was designed as a transitional working method to give impetus to accession talks.
Kader Sevinc, the CHP’s representative to the EU, said the Turkish government needed to take more responsibility for its own shortcomings on democracy and human rights.
“Starting with the EU’s annual progress report on Turkey, all the international reports confirm the AKP government’s radical anti-democratic practices [in areas such as] media freedom, judicial independence, individual liberties,” she told SETimes. “Such policies have consequently made Turkey less qualified for EU accession.”
When asked by a journalist earlier this year about the role of human rights in Turkey’s membership bid, Bagis said “I am not claiming Turkey’s human rights record is perfect or that it is exemplary. But I am claiming, with a very strong level of self-confidence, that Turkey’s human rights record is better than some EU member states.”
But Sevinc was quick to add that the EU should not hide behind Turkey’s domestic issues to escape its own responsibilities.
“Turkish people also expect EU politicians to express their support to Turkey, addressing the Turkish people directly,” she said. “The confusion between supporting Turkish peoples’ European future and supporting a government’s political destiny should be avoided.”
Sevinc said that the stakes of the situation go far beyond the political tensions of the day, calling on both parties to focus on the future.
“Turkey’s EU accession process needs to be revitalized because Turkey’s democratic future is in Europe.”
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