28th May 2022

EU and Turkey in 'vicious circle,' experts say

European leaders must treat Turkey as any other EU candidate and stop suggesting alternatives to full membership, while Ankara for its part needs to re-engage in a democratic reform process, a panel of European experts has recommended.

The EU's relationship with Turkey has turned into a 'vicious circle', with growing distrust on both sides, the Independent Commission on Turkey, a panel of experts chaired by Nobel Peace Prize winner Martti Ahtisaari warns in a report issued Monday (7 September).

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  • The Bosphorus: Turkey's geography is one of the arguments raised by some against EU membership. (Photo: Wikipedia)

"Continued negative comments by European political leaders, combined with growing public hesitation about further EU enlargement, have deepened resentment in Turkey and slowed the necessary reforms," the document reads.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy has publicly questioned Turkey's right to become an EU member, pointing to its geography, which stretches from southeastern Europe to Asia Minor. The question of 70 million Muslims set to become EU citizens is also frequently invoked by opponents to Turkish membership in countries such as Austria, Germany or the Netherlands.

"European governments must honour their commitments and treat Turkey with fairness and the respect it deserves. On its side, Turkey has to re-engage in a dynamic, broad-based reform process, thus confirming that it is willing and serious in its ambition to join the EU," the report recommends.

The experts warn against the use of alternative scenarios such as the 'privileged partnership' invoked in German circles and urge the EU to stick to the declared "common goal" of accession negotiations - EU membership.

"To breathe new life into the negotiations, the EU must simply follow through on previous commitments to keep the path to membership open. No new promises are needed," Mr Ahtisaari said.

On the other hand, Ankara also needs to keep its promises on the reform side.

"Two years without elections now lie ahead, and all sides must act now to prevent the country's convergence with the EU from stalling. Comprehensive, consistent and sustained progress towards more democracy at home is the best way to persuade more Europeans of Turkey's EU compatibility," the report reads.

One major opportunity for progress in the EU-Turkey negotiations will emerge later this month, as a new round of peace talks on the divided island of Cyprus resume. Ankara is the only capital to recognise the north of Cyprus as an independent country, while the Greek south is an EU member.

"Turkey's progress towards joining the European Union would get a major boost from resolving the division of Cyprus," said Mr Ahtisaari. "The seductive idea that the status quo can go on forever is a delusion. The cost of inaction this time around is too high."

Speaking in Stockholm after the meeting with EU foreign ministers on Saturday, Turkish top diplomat Ahmet Davutoglu looked confident of his country's future membership.

"We have full confidence that our French, British and other colleagues will keep their commitment," he said. "There is no need for convincing. It is already certain that Turkey and the European Union will integrate in the future."

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