Following the recent European Commission's negative report on Turkey's accession process and the rise of nationalist and right-wing populist parties in the European Parliament elections, doubts over the future of Turkey-EU relations and Turkey's accession process to the EU have been raised again.
In a period when xenophobia, racism and far-right populist parties are on the rise across Europe and the EU has been struggling with its own structural problems, the EU needs Turkey more than ever, Emre Gönen, an academic from Istanbul Bilgi University, said.
Speaking to Daily Sabah, Gönen said: "The EU faces serious problems such as rising xenophobia, racism and the far-right. A rapprochement with Turkey would be an important symbolic response to all these developments." He also added that the EU needs Turkey for a revival against its structural deadlock.
The European Parliament elections, held in 28 member countries between the dates of May 23-26, witnessed traditional, mainstream, centrist political parties weakened, while anti-establishment parties including the Greens and far-right populists increased their power and efficiency in the parliament. In France and Italy, euroskeptic, far-right, nationalist political parties led the polls, while the euroskeptic nationalist Brexit Party led by Nigel Farage clearly came out on top with 31.7% of the votes in the U.K. Far-right political parties and groups are known for their hostility toward migration, multiculturalism and European integration. They are also hard opponents of Turkey's possible EU membership.
Despite of all these factors, Gönen stated that relations with Turkey and Turkey's accession process are not even on the agenda for the EU. In fact, during his address to the European Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, EU Commissioner for European Neighborhood Policy and Enlargement Negotiations Johannes Hahn said that no chapter in Turkey's accession could be opened in line with the decision made on the country in 2018.
Looking at the EU's enlargement process, 13 out of 28 total members of the EU joined in the 21st century. Recently, the European Commission suggested that the EU should open membership talks with Albania and North Macedonia.
On the other hand, Turkey's very long-awaited accession process has been stalled for years. Signing a partnership agreement with the European Economic Community (EEC) in 1963, Turkey applied for the EU membership in 1987, became a member country in 1999 and accession talks began in 2005. But negotiations stalled in 2007 due to objections of the Greek Cypriot administration on the divided island of Cyprus as well as opposition from Germany and France. Many believe that Turkey's membership application has been stalled for years due to its cultural and religious identity. During the period since Turkey applied for full membership, many countries from Eastern Europe with major democratic flaws have been accepted into the union.
Gönen said that Turkey gained serious momentum regarding reforms and development during the 2000s. "In 2006, the EU's initiative led by France and Cyprus against Turkey's accession process was an indicator of double standards against Turkey," he said.
However, Gönen also warned that "it is not beneficial for Turkey not to see its own flaws by hiding behind the excuse of a double standard." "Turkey's reform process has stopped after 2009 and there have been significant backsliding to meet criteria and conditions required by the EU following the failed coup attempt in 2016," said Gönen, and added that this situation has satisfied some anti-Turkey powers within the EU.
Turkey declared a state of emergency on July 20, 2016, following the deadly coup attempt by the Gülenist Terror Group (FETÖ), which killed 250 people and left 2,200 injured. The state of emergency lasted for two years.
Gönen said that the EU did not show enough support to a country which has partnership with the bloc via ongoing negotiations and accession process, during this difficult process for Turkey.
"Even in times when Turkey exhibited a better performance than other candidate countries and some member countries, the EU did not sufficiently support Turkey," he added.
"When we look today, Turkey could not reach the level it desired," said Gönen and added that Turkey however still spends efforts to take the necessary steps as we see in the example of the recent plan of judicial reforms.
Turkey introduced new judicial reforms last week with the aim to strengthen the independent, objective, accountable and transparent features of the judiciary. "The EU imposes a way of life, so a candidate country cannot pick some conditions and ignore others. A candidate country must adopt all necessary conditions to be an EU member," said Gönen, and added that both Turkey and the EU are guilty for the present situation that accession process and bilateral relations reached.