Since I started to work professionally for the EU-Turkey relationship, I have had ample opportunity to examine, peruse and analyze an impressive quantity of reports, opinions, evaluations prepared by different institutions and bodies of the European Union on Turkey.
The first report I had to analyze - together with my colleague Can Baydarol at the Economic Development Foundation IKV - was the opinion of the European Commission regarding Turkey's application for membership in April 1987. The opinion for the application, which is usually given in a matter of months for applying countries, had taken almost two and a half years for Turkey. We were eager to know what would be the content.
At the time, the late Haluk Ceyhan was the secretary general of the IKV, a very peculiar and ahead-of-its-time institution, founded by the Turkish private sector back in 1965, to specialize on EU issues. The secretary general asked us to hold a meeting, as researchers at the foundation, to hear the conclusions we (Can and I) drew from the opinion. I thought it would be amusing to start the presentation by saying "the bad news is that the opinion is very negative, the good news is that it seems our jobs are secured for the coming 25 years, I think we will have to analyze a plethora of other documents before Turkey becomes member."I have never been so prophetic in my whole professional life and I regret deeply for having been so farsighted. Not only have we largely spent more than 25 years since 1989 (27 to be exact, this December), but the perspective of a full-fledged integration remains as distant as ever.
The recent Progress Report prepared by the European Commission is a synthesis of many different inputs from a variety of sources, local and international. Still, the idea of "evaluating Turkey's democracy and its aptitude to overtake responsibilities stemming from EU membership" was a good idea, so long as it covered a limited lapse of time, maybe five, maybe eight years. Over this time, the reports would lose their effectiveness and influence over membership negotiations.
This is exactly what has happened to EU-Turkey relations. The first opinion came in 1989. The progress reports (which had a different appellation) started back in 1999, as a matter of fact, the European Parliament wanted the commission to produce reports on Turkey "in exchange" of the acceptance of the Customs Union completion by the EU, already in 1995. To evaluate and criticize a country for such a long time, without really showing the light at the end of the tunnel would become entirely non-productive. This is the situation today.
The pre-accession period is totally asymmetrical for the candidate country. The EU is the judge, the prosecutor and the jury at once. The candidate country has to abide by all the rules imposed upon to become a full member. It complies with the directives of the EU because at the end, there is a very important prize to win. If such a period is prolonged indefinitely, it creates what we call "a negotiation fatigue." The EU law, called Acquis Communautaire, is in constant evolution and motion. Wrapped up chapters and issues cease to be up-to-date after a certain time and have to be re-negotiated. In a nutshell, a pre-accession period cannot last longer than five to seven years, otherwise is becomes a deadlock, a cul-de-sac. This is unfortunately our situation today.
This year's progress report is probably the worst evaluation of Turkey's achievements since 1999. The number of critical evaluations are innumerable and there is a very distinguishable sense of panic among the rapporteurs as regards the future of Turkey within the EU.
This alarming perception is further deepened by the political declaration made by Turkish officials regarding the absence of impartiality seen in the report. The reigning atmosphere in Turkey, especially after the Brexit referendum, is that the EU's days are numbered. There is therefore no need to expect anything from a dying structure.
This is grossly simplifying the strength and the moral importance of the EU. Obviously the time is ripe for euroskepticism and the inability of EU leaders to come up with a solid perspective for Turkey has ruined many hopes and perspectives. This does not mean that Turkish democracy will survive and strive out of the rules and requirements of the EU. We, as Turkey, will definitely not fare better if we get away from the Copenhagen criteria. And the EU is there to stay for much longer, probably not in its present form, but definitely as a huge, technology creating, stable single market. This is worth remembering before condemning the whole process bluntly. The issue is not to let people ask, "Is Turkey still European?" Because it is. There is no other valid perspective for this society.