If anyone wants to explain the relationship between the European Union and Turkey with a song, they could use U2’s “With or Without You” considering its half a century of painful history. But yesterday, Feb. 5, Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdoğan told a group of journalists on his way from Prague to Budapest that to be a member of EU is not a "sine qua non" for Turkey, it is not a must.
He also said Turkey was fed up with being delayed by the EU and this stalling should come to an end.
Erdoğan has been escalating his tone regarding the EU since the beginning of 2013. The last half of 2012 was not very comfortable for Turkey because of the Greek Cypriot term presidency. Turkey had announced in advance that Ankara would halt political dialogue with the Commission, since it does not recognize the Republic of Cyprus as representing the Turkish Cypriots in their own republic on the north part of the island, recognized only by Turkey.
Erdoğan’s fury goes back to 2004. Then he took political risks, convinced Turkish Cypriots to change the paradigm into "Don’t be the first one to say no" and also approved a U.N. plan for the reunification of the island, which they did. But days later, when Greek Cypriots who actually said "no" to the already-settled-through-diplomacy-reunification plan were let in the EU as full members to represent the whole of the island. The fury deepened when EU promises to Turkish Cypriots, if they’d say "yes" were not kept and moreover Greek Cypriots, as a member with veto power now put hold on many chapters in membership negotiations.
Now with a new French presidency, which contrary to the former one is promising Turkey to raise the block by at least one chapter, likely on finance, a sector where Turkey is in a better shape then many EU countries. But when Turkey asks for easing of visa restrictions, which are provided for many non-candidate countries, Ankara is asked to sign a hollow readmission agreement that gives no guarantee for the Turkish government. It is again only promises. This makes Turkey more uncomfortable. It is no surprise that those who think Turkey should keep on going for EU membership is now around 30 percent, according to recent polls, whereas support used to be around the 70 percent range in 2004.
If not because Turkey is a Muslim populated country Erdoğan asks, they why? Is it because Turkey is too crowded, too dynamic, or simply is it because of Cyprus. Yet, he says that Turkey will, for sometime, keep doing its homework. It seems that neither Turkey nor the EU wants to be the first to declare divorce. Perhaps because both sides know that it would be a strategically wrong move. Erdoğan’s Shanghai and ASEAN rhetoric gives a message of unhappiness, rather than a strategic shift of preferences.
It is also clear that Turkey-EU relations cannot go on like this any longer;
another chapter this year, a pointless agreement the next. Turkey-EU relations need a radical change, a reset with new and more practical, less humiliating terms of reference.
This article was published in the Hurriyet Daily News on Feb. 7, 2013.
Murat Yetkin is the current editor-in-chief of Hurriyet Daily News and a columnist for Radikal, a Turkish publication. He is a political commentator on Turkish and Middle Eastern affairs and has previously worked for BBC World Service and AFP. He can be found on Twitter: @MuratYetkin2.