It’s time for a fresh effort
By Carl Bildt and Massimo D’Alema
With Turkey now forming a new government with Abdullah Gull finally being appointed as its new head of state, it is high time that the European Union and Turkey make a fresh effort to re-launch the accession process.
We firmly believe that negotiations should continue in earnest: the benefits are clear for both sides.
First, few could doubt the strategic significance of a Turkey that continues its path of modernization and European-inspired reforms. This, in turn, requires a gradual movement towards membership of the European Union, as many Turkish friends tell us.
Second, we should recognize the immense significance of a major country with its cultural and religious roots in Islam consolidating its democracy and unleashing the full potential of its economy. This can not fail to inspire all those in that wider world of Islam who want to embrace democracy and modernization.
Third, a Turkey fully anchored and committed to the EU will also increase the chances of projecting the peace and prosperity of Europe in the area of the Black Sea, as well as parts of the Middle East. The transformation of the current “arc of instability” into a well governed neighborhood must be a common quest. Turkey’s stance makes a crucial difference. Fully anchoring it to ESDP is in Europe’s best interests.
Finally, let us not forget that Turkey is a key actor in the realm of energy security. Given the uncertain state of energy markets, and the stakes involved, it is our shared interest to incorporate Turkey in a functioning integrated system.
Those doubting the strategic significance of all this, should for a moment contemplate the strategic disaster that a Turkey starting to drift off in other directions would be. If the EU was to close its doors, Turkey could in fact start looking for other doors that will be open to it. Europe’s mistrust easily translates into a nationalist reaction.
We do acknowledge that there are, both within the EU and in Turkey itself, people who remain opposed to the country entering the European Union. And it is a fact that we can never be certain of the ultimate success of our mutual undertaking. But as much as we would never deny that these views are perfectly legitimate, we should not be denied the right to support Turkey’s accession when the time for decision comes.
Let us emphasize that the time has not come yet: for now, the EU is committed to a process – to be pursued in good faith – and a solid consensus should be based on this very concept.
In this perspective, both Turkey and the EU should renew their commitment through concrete acts. The Turkish government would have to insert, among its new priorities, the abolishment of the present infamous Article 301. In the interests also of the dialogue between civilizations, the full rights of non-Muslim believers and their institutions must be respected.
Moreover, difficult hurdles have to be overcome in order to move the full accession process forward – starting with the continued division of the island of Cyprus.
In the years to come there has to be a vigorous new effort to overcome this shameful division. Failure to do so would not only make the division of the island de facto permanent, but would also endanger cooperation between EU and Nato in areas like Afghanistan and Kosovo. The previous negotiations under UN auspices provide an excellent basis for moving towards a united Cyprus.
Earlier this year, the EU committed itself to the resumption without delay of the work aiming at the adoption of the Commission proposal easing the conditions for trade with the areas of the Republic of Cyprus in which its government does not exercise effective control. This must be done.
But it is of course also imperative that Turkey be prepared to fully implement the provisions of the customs union, allowing also the ships and aircrafts of the Republic of Cyprus to use its ports and airports.
At some point in time we might well reach a situation where continued enlargement is no longer on the agenda of the European Union. But today we have an unmet commitment to the 100 million people of Southeastern Europe – the Western Balkans and Turkey. By closing the Union’s doors to these new potential members, Europe will diminish its ability to stabilize both regions.
Europe’s security would largely benefit from this additional round. At the same time, the more flexible Union we are building can allow more diverse members to be incorporated without disrupting the overall structure.