06.04.2024 Author: Alexandr Svaranc

Turkey is eager but not raring to join the EU

Turkey is eager but not raring to join the EU

The issue of European integration and Turkey’s eventual accession to the EU remains a strategic prospect for Ankara. However, these plans are still far from reality due to the special position of some key EU players. Perhaps the position of a united Europe will change after the next European Parliament elections. However, Turkish politicians are hardly naive in their calculations for a speedy resolution of the issue of Turkey’s EU membership.

In March, Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares paid a working visit to Ankara and held substantive talks with his Turkish counterpart Hakan Fidan. Obviously, the two sides touched on European integration as well as other current issues in bilateral and multilateral relations.

Today, the policy of the collective West, defined by the US, is testing its partners in terms of their attitude to the Russian-Ukrainian crisis, strict compliance with the anti-Russian sanctions regime and support for Ukraine against Russia. In fact, these issues have become the West’s litmus test for checking the clock and the limits of permissible partnership relations.

Turkey has always been a complex partner of the West, whose foreign policy has a centuries-old experience of manoeuvring flexibly between different centres of power, taking into account its own interests. Ahmet Davutoğlu, a former associate of President Recep Erdoğan, former head of the Turkish Foreign Ministry and government, and now a political opponent of the ruling Justice and Development Party and leader of the Future Party, said: “Just as there was no united West before Turkey, there will never be a united Europe. There is only a strong tradition of European diplomacy, always backed by strong national strategies that have the potential to prepare the ground and pave the way for international conflicts and clashes of interests in Europe. Such a situation requires Turkey to fine-tune its diplomatic adjustments in its relations with both the EU as a whole and its members” (Ahmet Davutoğlu. Stratejik Derinlik: Türkiye’nin Uluslararası Konumu. Istanbul. Kure, 2001. S. 536.).

“United Europe” as such does not exist, it remains heterogeneous with “club interests”. Three groups have formed in Europe regarding Turkey’s European integration: supporters, opponents and the undecided.

Of course, the main supporter of Turkey’s EU membership is the UK (including both the Conservative and Labour parties, and the Conservative party), which believes that Turkey will become a reliable bridge between Europe and the Muslim (mainly resource-rich Turkic) countries of the post-Soviet space. This reflects the long history of the Anglo-Turkish alliance relationship, issues of geography, and London’s strategy to revive the Great Game by relying on Turkey and the doctrine of Pan-Turkism against Russia, Iran and China. However, after Brexit and the UK’s exit from the EU, London does not have much opportunity to influence Brussels’ position. Although the Anglo-Saxon alliance with the US allows Britain to count on the factor of Turkish pressure against the “United Europe”.

An important supporter of Turkey’s EU membership is also Hungary, which has become an observer in the Ankara-patronised Organisation of Turkic States. Viktor Orbán is a key partner of Recep Erdoğan within the EU and NATO. In addition to the UK and Hungary, a group of Mediterranean countries (including Italy, Spain, Portugal) have a softer and more positive stance towards Turkey’s European integration.

The main opponents of Turkey’s EU membership are France, Germany, Austria and, occasionally, Greece, for historical, civilisational, political and economic reasons.

Countries that are undecided on the issue include Denmark and parts of Eastern Europe.

In other words, just as there was no united Europe before the Ottoman Empire, there is no such unity before modern Turkey, but rather the diplomacy of key European countries (Britain, France, Germany, Austria, Italy) on which the resolution of issues depends. Turkey, both in the past and today, takes into account the contradictions of European diplomacy in its own interests.

Depending on the global and regional international situation, Turkey will be pushed into the next round of negotiations on European integration. However, the list of the EU’s demands (standard requirements) on the Turkish candidate is quite long: first civilisational issues related to Turkey’s belonging to the world of Islam; then doubts about the legitimacy of classifying the Turks as European nations; the incompatibility of the state of Turkish democracy and economy with European standards; unresolved Cyprus, Karabakh and Kurdish problems; and tensions in Turkey’s relations with Greece and Armenia. And this list may change from time to time, but not for the better for Turkey.

France and Germany once spoke in favour of a kind of “privileged partnership” or “special relationship” between the EU and Turkey. But no one can explain what this special relationship is. Without EU membership, what additional privileges will Brussels grant Ankara, which already has an association treaty from 1963 and a customs union treaty from 1995? Moreover, as a NATO member, Turkey is already actively involved in all pan-European structures (e.g. the ECHR and the OSCE, football and other leagues). There is simply no such concept as “privileged partnership” in EU regulations, other than “membership”. Therefore, Turkey can only accept membership and nothing else.

And today, Turkey sees a fragmented and weak Europe and therefore will not develop relations with the EU similar to those with the UK and the US. Therefore, Hakan Fidan notes that Europe’s strategy of using Ukraine to settle scores with Russia is unacceptable to Turkey. “We do not accept Europe’s plans to settle scores with Russia under the pretext of the conflict in Ukraine in order to implement its military strategies. Of course, we reject the occupation and support the territorial integrity of Ukraine. But the time has come to end this conflict,” Fidan told CNN Türk.

In other words, while Ankara has to take into account Washington’s pressure to strictly comply with anti-Russian sanctions and negotiate with the Americans on the issue of prior notification of specific cases of such violations by Turkish companies, the Turks demonstrate a different diplomacy in the situation with the EU.

Ankara does not currently see the political will in Brussels to conduct an intensive dialogue on Turkey’s accession to the EU, although it expects such a development in the future. Speaking at a press conference with Spanish Foreign Minister José Manuel Albares, Fidan said: “Turkey continues to see its future in Europe. As our president confirmed earlier, Ankara’s strategic vision for EU membership has not changed. It may be easier for us to develop relations with individual EU countries, but developing relations with the EU requires consensus decisions. This does not always happen in our favour. The negotiation process requires the political will of key EU countries. It was there in 2004 and 2005, but then it eroded and gave way to a different political stance towards Turkey.

At the same time, Ankara is counting on the expansion of the customs union, visa liberalisation and increased trade relations with the EU. Of course, Turkey needs additional European investment and export and re-export business with the EU. However, Ankara understands that under the current conditions of a crisis of confidence between Brussels and Moscow, Europe has no choice but to try to solve the acute problems of importing energy resources from the post-Soviet space through Turkey. And this is not only the issue of Azerbaijan, but also the Russian-Turkish “gas hub” and possibly the Turanian project for Turkey’s systematic access to the Central Asian Turkic countries (primarily resource-rich Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan).

In this context, Turkey can establish more pragmatic relations with the same key and ordinary countries of “United Europe”, in order to parry tensions in French-Azerbaijani relations, because the same Paris needs Kazakh uranium. In other words, the growing importance of the Turkish transit of strategic raw materials to the world (especially European) markets allows Ankara to count on a positive balance in its relations with the EU.


Alexander SVARANTS – PhD of Political Science, Professor, especially for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook

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