Europe is going through extraordinary times, which precludes us from foreseeing how the greatest political project in history will transform under existential pressures from both within and outside.
The migration crisis, the threat of terrorism, Brexit, the rise of extremist political parties, as well as other challenges in the global context have continued to constrict the EU, triggering divergence among member states and fueling Euroscepticism among the population of several countries.
Geopolitical shifts, notably connected to the disruption of the transatlantic alliance as well as the rise of dominative powers such as Russia and China have further distracted the EU in the area of foreign affairs and trade.
Moreover, divisions over economics, culture and geography have challenged member states' as well as candidate countries’ ability to pursue the EU agenda.
The eventual undermining of the policy making-capacity of EU institutions has led to the EU losing its moral superiority and this has eventually raised questions about the future of the European project.
The most prominent questions in this regard are “Will an introvert EU put the rules-based economic system under threat?” and “Will the EU be a more realpolitik-driven entity, meaning a union less of values and more of transactional politics?” These questions highlight that the period ahead is critical not only for Europe but also for the international community.
Until quite recently, no one questioned the EU’s role as being a protector of the rules-based international system and multilateralism. However, nowadays, this role is also under scrutiny since the post-war global order is breaking down and so are the conditions that the EU shaped and is shaped from.
As a supranational organisation, the EU is not exempted from the general rule that applies to nation states, or any actor in the international arena, which is to “either serve the needs of the day while protecting your own values, or get into crisis”.
Such a moment has unfortunately been reached today. The current crisis has brought about the necessity for the readjustment of this project that no longer serves the needs of the day properly. What is meant by readjustment is more pro-active involvement and strategic thinking in order to counterbalance destabilising forces and isolationist or protectionist tendencies in the international system.
Despite everything, the EU can regain confidence and assert itself as a global actor. This is only achievable if the EU strengthens itself, increases its weight and influence, further engages in dialogue and supports multilateral platforms rather than following introvert policies.
If the new world order could send a written message, it would read “geopolitics is back” and “it is time to be side by side”.
To become a real global actor in this new order, the EU should redefine its place in the international arena by determining a fresh and ambitious vision to take on the challenges ahead.
In this sense, Turkey as a negotiating candidate is the most important asset for the EU on key issues that it faces, such as terrorism, security, defense, irregular migration, radicalisation, xenophobia, and security of energy supply.
The concrete and positive results of Turkey-EU cooperation and joint actions, both in the refugee crisis and in the fight against terrorism, make this clear. However, the only way to fully tap this relationship’s full potential is Turkey’s membership of the EU.
Deeper cooperation without accession can only deliver limited success and cannot go beyond transactionalism.
A mutual effort
Turkey firmly maintains its strategic choice and target of becoming an EU member and to continue working towards this purpose with determination. However, Turkey’s efforts alone will not be sufficient.
Unfortunately, accession negotiations have came to a standstill due to narrow-minded political hindrances. The EU has taken decisions that alienate Turkey rather than encourage it, as was demonstrated with the recent round of so-called “sanctions”. However, the Turkish accession process is far more resilient to outside shocks, political rhetoric, populist discourses or "enlargement fatigue" than it is considered to be.
The EU membership perspective had become possible thanks to the sophisticated and courageous approach taken by EU leaders of back then. I hope the new leaders of EU institutions in the political cycle of 2019 to 2024 and the EU politicians of today will continue with such an approach in dealing with Turkey’s accession process. It should never be forgotten that, the debate about Turkey’s EU accession is in essence a debate about the future of Europe in terms of its identity, its economy, its political and institutional structure, and its role in our complex international system.
Together, we hold the future of Europe in our hands. It depends on us, on our mutual confidence, and on our joint efforts. This is a moment to be seized by both sides. Turkey’s membership to the EU will be a win-win-win case: for Turkey, for Europe, and beyond.
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