February 11, 2013

The EU should look at the big picture and show Turkey a light at the end of the tunnel

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said that Turkey has begun considering alternatives to joining the EU. One of the alternatives might be joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Current membership of the SCO consists of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There are also observers such as India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia. None of the SCO’s full members can be considered democratic by Western standards.

Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan recently said that Turkey has begun considering alternatives to joining the EU. One of the alternatives might be joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). Current membership of the SCO consists of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. There are also observers such as India, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iran and Mongolia. None of the SCO’s full members can be considered democratic by Western standards.

SCO is sometimes called a dictators’ club. PM Erdogan’s statements demonstrate how frustrated Turkey is becoming by Europe’s decades long hesitant and undecided attitude regarding Turkey’s full accession. Despite some unresolved issues between the EU and Turkey, the country has made enormous progress in all spheres including political process, economy, rights, freedoms, justice system etc. This deserves recognition by the EU and a clear path to a full membership should be offered to Turkey just as it is to other candidate countries. Turkey has worked closely with Europe since 1963 and applied for the full membership in 2005. The modernist and secular sections of Turkish society were clearly encouraged by this process. European failure to engage Turkey without at least some double standards appears to lead the country in a direction opposite to Europe’s interest. Turkey has enormous positive influence in countries ranging from Caucasus to Central Asia (even as far as the Xinjiang Province of China and Mongolia) and North Africa. Turkey’s institutions for higher education are full of students from those countries. Let’s not underestimate the influence of their experience and its’ impact when they return to their respective countries. Turkey is one of the Muslim democracies in the world – a role model that Europe should wish to promote. Last, but not least, many European countries, including Turkish neighbours, should look to Turkey for lessons in prudent economic management.

Turkey that is leaning East politically, and especially in terms of security, would constitute a Fukushima-size strategic failure for Europe and the wider West. PM Erdogan’s words (cited in Turkish newspaper Sabah on the 24th January) to Russian President Putin, “You should include us in the Shanghai Five and we will say farewell to the European Union” should serve as a wake – up call to Europe’s decision – makers even if they contained an element of attention – seeking. Europe must show Turkey the light at the end of the tunnel or Turkey might turn her back on us. Europe’s indecision and hostility of some countries towards Turkish membership appears to lead to the decrease in popular support for the EU accession. According to the Turkish Statistical Service EDAM, the number of supporters for the EU accession among the Turks fell from 70 per cent in 2004 to one-third in 2012. This process should be reversed by Europe by treating Turkey with respect and giving it full recognition for its achievements.

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