Turkey’s Accession to the EU and the Emperor’s New Clothes

Assoc. Prof. Mirela Veleva

“But he hasn’t got anything on!” the whole town cried out at last.
The Emperor shivered, for he suspected they were right. But he thought, “This procession has got to go on.” So he walked more proudly than ever, as his noblemen held high the train that wasn’t there at all.
H.C. Andersen

The last couple of days saw a number of public statements by committed European politicians in support of freezing Turkey’s EU accessions. Johannes Hann – Enlargement Commissioner – has urged EU governments to adopt a decisive change in the relationship between Turkey and the EU – outside of the perspective for membership. Two high-level German politicians have appealed for discontinuation of the negotiations with Ankara. N. Röttgen – President of the Foreign Affairs Committee at the Bundestag has announced “Europe will lose face if we do not respond to Turkish actions against democracy, against rule of law, if we continue to adhere to a phantasy that a country with such a government and constitution can join the EU”. J. Herrmann, Minister of Interior of Bavaria has explicitly commented that “it is about time that Turkey’s accession negotiations are ended. We should not lie to ourselves. We do not have common prospects with a Turkey under Erdogan”1 .

The argument about the incongruence between Turkey’s political system and its statute of a country negotiating EU accession – is simply a reiteration of a fact well known for a long time now. In other words, it seems that there are still people who will remark with naïve astonishment (genuine or insincere) – “But he hasn’t got any clothes on!” (The Emperor’s New Clothes).
This fact is the result of a continuing tendency of political use of the enlargement policy. In early 80s Greece was admitted to the EU despite the negative opinion of the European Commission regarding its compliance with membership obligations, but because of prioritizing geopolitical arguments, related to regional security in the context of the Cold War. The same is equally true for Portugal and Spain – in the second half of 1980s., as well as the accession of Cyprus despite open issues with the Northern Cypriot Republic. Yet another symptomatic example in this regard is the opening of negotiations with Bulgaria and Romania in 1999 in return for their participation in solving the Yugoslavian conflict despite limited compliance with membership criteria.
The history of Turkey’s inclusion in the process of EU accession is of a similar nature. Turkey applies for membership in 1987. Negotiations are opened in 2005 despite EC’s explicit concerns whether Turkey fulfills the political criteria for membership due to problems with judicial independence, media freedom, respect for human rights particularly of the Kurd minority, stated in the2004 monitoring report. The politics of conditionality – fulfilling the criteria for membership as a condition for opening membership negotiations – is disregarded because of geopolitical arguments – solving the Cyprus issue. Opening negotiations with Turkey is the result of the signing of an Additional Protocol to the Ankara Agreement (for association) which allows for expanding the customs union over the new member states (including Cyprus) in July 2005.
Moreover, despite the clear signs of increasing problems with respect for democratic standards – in the end of 2015 Turkey received encouraging signals for resuming (“energizing”) its accession negotiations. Clearly these positive signals on the part of the EU have been the reaction to Turkey’s assent to cooperate in solving the refugee crisis and not the reflection of a visible progress in complying with membership requirement2.
At the same time, following the formulation of the Copenhagen criteria for EU membership in 1993 enlargement is implemented on the basis of a conditionality policy, i.e. access to membership should be granted only to countries which fulfill the criteria in their entirety. This means that adherence to the criteria for democracy and rule of law is unconditionally necessary as a precondition for beginning the membership negotiations.
Adding additional arguments to this process of compliance-accession, despite their fictitious importance for the current affairs – limits the effect of the conditionality policy – it is unable to stimulate progress towards irreversible establishment of democratic standards. Moreover, it may have a reverse effect – stimulating erosion of democracy since membership perspective has legitimizing effects on undemocratic governments.
The continuous political usage of the enlargement policy illustrates one of the main conceptual problems of the European Union – incongruence between declared values and principles and the practical actions for their fulfillment. In other words, enlargement is based on mandatory universal norms, but not always and not entirely…
The lasting absence of clear decisions regarding the prospects of Turkish EU membership is not only a demonstration of the impotence of the EU to overcome the internal ambivalence of the enlargement policy but also stimulates the geopolitical appetites of Erdogan. This situation creates a genuine risk that in the near future the exclamation “But he hasn’t got any clothes on!” will be addressed towards the EU.

(1) http://www.dnevnik.bg/sviat/2017/04/25/
(2) http://www.mediapool.bg/turtsiya-predupredi-che-planat-s-es-za-bezhantsite-ne-e-finaliziran-news240523.html