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Why Turkey is no longer interested in Europe

eu-turkeyEU Membership is no longer on the policy agenda and isn’t an issue for the youth of Gezi, says Nedim Gürsel (translated by Tom Gill)

The EU and Turkey is a story of a relationship that has lasted since ’64. With the prospect of membership fading, what view does Turkey have of the EU? We spoke with the writer Nedim Gürsel, of France’s CNRS, the author of thirty books translated into more than 25 countries and published in France by Seuil. Before the days of the military dictatorship and now under the conservative regime of Erdogan, Gürsel’s books have been subject to censorship in his country of origin because of their content.

Looking at the propaganda posters for the European elections, here in France, I saw that two right-wing parties were using the sloga ‘No to Turkey’. Yet the question is no longer on the agenda. Sure, the accession negotiations began in 2005, but now Turkey’s entry is no longer of the day, because of the economic crisis of the EU and the Erdogan government that is moving away from democracy and has already turned the page on the European Union. In Turkey, the desire for Europe no longer exists, neither from the government nor among the population. For me it is a real shame, because I believe that if this view no longer exists authoritarianism in Turkey will gain more and more ground. The prospect of joining Europe was a democratic reference which no longer exists.”

Who is to blame?

Both sides. In Europe, two major countries – Germany and France at the time of Sarkozy – have put on the breaks and in Turkey this was seen as a slap in the face, which strengthened the nationalist sentiments. As a first step, the European perspective was used to combat the power of the military, but now that this has been achieved no-one cares anymore.

The ruling AK Party has used Europe, without sharing the democratic and secular vision, as a tactic to keep the army at bay. Today, with the slide into authoritarianism, the control over the media, restrictions on individual freedoms, the threats to the rule of law, Turkey can no longer claim to meet the standards of Copenhagen and is thus progressively moving away from Europe.

The only positive thing is that [French President Francois] Hollande, who made the trip in Turkey and where I had been invited too, has taken the initiative to open one of the chapters of the negotiations that had been blocked by Sarkozy. But it is difficult to be optimistic. Europe is in crisis, while the Turkish economy is growing at a rate of 4% per year, has become the 17th world power and will chair the G20. In August there are presidential elections, for the first time by universal suffrage in two rounds. Erdogan aims to have more power and the European nightmare is likely to continue, if he wins, for five years.

Even young people no longer look to Europe? In the slogans of Taksim Square there was no reference to the European Union, as has been the case in the Ukraine.

The [desire for] accession to the EU among young people is very low. I was recently at the University of Izmir, I discussed with the students and the dominant talk was that if Europe does not want us we do not need a Europe in crisis. The protest movement in Taksim Gezi park is broad, they reject the government, the imposition of a conservative way of life, using the Internet, aspire to freedom, but they lack the desire for Europe.

Turkey, however, remains a cornerstone of NATO. Is it also looking at other alliances?

At one point it searched other economic partners: Russia, China. But more than 50 per cent of Turkey’s trade is with the EU, after the association agreement in ’64 there was the customs union in ’95 and in ’99 the EU candidacy. In 2005 it started the accession negotiations, but in ten years there have been no steps forward. Out of 35 chapters of negotiations only 14 have been opened. Also blocked are the chapters on justice, democracy and the rule of law, which would be useful to force Turkey to reform the judiciary and make it independent.

Turkey is playing a role in Syria and also in Ukraine. In what direction?

In Syria, Turkey has been exposed too much, believing that Assad was finished, but now it is embarrassed with the radicalization of the opposition and the growing number of refugees, which are expensive. In Syria, there have been tensions with Russia, while Ankara has to keep good relations with Moscow, also because of the Crimean Tatars, who have asked for help from Turkey. From the times of the Ottoman Empire, Muslims Tatars had relations with Turkey. So today Ankara is in a difficult position.

This article first appeared in Italian at il Manifesto. Thjis translation first appeared at Revolting Europe

One Comment

  1. swatantra says:

    Thank goodness for that. It would have been like trying to fit a round peg into a square hole. The fact is oil and water do not mix.

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