Three Monkeys Online

A Curious, Alternative Magazine

EU finally to say ‘Yes’ to Turkey?

The answers can be found in the mechanisms used by the EU to incorporate future member states. In short the prospect of membership and the management of enlargement processes is the most effective foreign policy instrument the EU has in its toolkit.

First and foremost, the negotiations with Turkey are likely to drag on for at least a decade and probably longer. That means that there will be sufficient time for both the EU and Turkey to put in place the range of administrative, institutional, and legislative arrangements necessary to ensure a successful adaptation by both.

Second, the EU's experience of eastern enlargement demonstrates how effective the membership criteria are in re-shaping the applicant state's public administration, judiciary, and economy. The capacity to implement EU measures is gradually enhanced through effective transposition of legislation and consistent monitoring of compliance by the Commission. In effect, the EU transposes its norms on to applicant states in advance of their accession.

The process is completely symmetrical with the applicant state having no option but to accept the changes recommended by Brussels. The evidence from the Eastern enlargement suggests this is a uniformly positive experience for the applicant states and for the EU. In effect, the enlargement process has helped consolidate fragile democratic institutions, open up previously moribund economies, strengthen administrative capacity, reduce corruption in public life and stabilise relations between neighbouring countries. Thus the EU can most effectively 'Europeanise' Turkey if it opens negotiations for membership and thereafter closely monitors the reform process. And just as this worked in Eastern Europe so it can work in Turkey.

This is not simply about what needs to happen in Turkey. Cultural essentialists within the EU should look at the record of reform of the AKP government since it won a landslide victory in the 2002 election. It has pushed through four major reform packages, some of which required significant changes in the Turkish legal code. These included the abolition of the death penalty and a clamp-down on the use of torture by the police; reform of the judiciary; the release of political prisoners; a reduction in the power of the military including making decisions of the Supreme Military Council subject to judicial review; greater freedom of expression and protection for the media, and substantive cultural, educational, and language autonomy for minority groups, in particular the Kurds. Turkish foreign policy, similarly, has accommodated itself increasingly to the EU's Common Foreign and Security Policy. Thus the evidence from within Turkey supports the view that this is a country engaged in fundamental and far-reaching reform of almost every aspect of its national life.

Significant though these reforms have been, there is still a fragility about Turkey's engagement with processes of modernisation and Europeanisation. The EU needs to act on the Commission's recommendation to open talks. If it does it will encourage further reform of all aspects of the Turkish state administration to ensure that EU rules are properly transposed and implemented. Ultimately, this will guarantee that Turkey's development trajectory is a European one. The modernisers within Turkey need a positive signal from the EU in favour of Turkish membership. The European Council should provide that now that the Commission has completed its evaluation.

Dr. John O'Brennan is an IRCHSS Post-doctoral Fellow based in the Department of Politics and Public Administration at the University of Limerick. Routledge will publish his book on the EU's Eastern Enlargement in early 2005.

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