The swearing in of new French president François Hollande has led to a round of renewed optimism in Turkey over its bid to join the European Union. The Turkish parliament is racing to introduce new legislation that would establish a human rights commission and a panel to deal with complaints about Turkey’s judiciary, and the hope is that these moves will lead France to unblock five chapters in the EU accession talks. On Monday, Germany’s foreign minister said that there is space to once again resume negotiations but that Turkey should not get its hopes up too much since progress on the issue will take awhile. As always, it is interesting to note the difference in the accounts from Hürriyet and Today’s Zaman, as the former includes the German minister’s words of caution while the latter omits them. Zaman does, however, take stock of the elephant in the room, which is Cyprus. Despite the fact that Cyprus is a member of the EU, Turkey’s seaports and airports are closed to Cypriot ships and planes, which is what led the EU to suspend succession talks in the first place. Turkey has no plans to change its policy, and on Monday FM Davutoğlu confirmed Turkey’s position that it will suspend relations with the EU once Cyprus assumes the rotating presidency on July 1. At the very same press conference, Davutoğlu also voiced the expectation and hope that there is going to be a “positive acceleration” of relations between Turkey and the EU now that Sarkozy is gone and Hollande is in his place.
I call this magical thinking because it completely glosses over the real obstacles to Turkey’s EU bid and and ignores the hard facts on the ground in favor of highlighting ephemeral minutiae that will barely register in the grand scheme of things. The actual situation is as follows: of the 35 chapters of EU law that must be negotiated, 13 have been successfully opened, 17 are currently frozen, 4 have yet to be opened, and only 1 has been successfully completed. Furthermore, of the 17 that are frozen, only 5 were blocked by France; the other 12 were blocked by the EU itself or Cyprus, a situation which is not bound to resolve itself any time in the foreseeable future. Turkey is convincing itself that a new French president means that its EU bid is about to begin sailing through, as if perfidious France was the only obstacle to Turkey’s accession, and Davutoğlu is busily crowing about a new era of positive relations while at the same time preparing to freeze all political relations and EU accession talks come July. The notion that replacing Sarkozy with Hollande is ultimately going to make even one lick of difference is laughable. Until Turkey complies with EU demands over normalizing relations with Cyprus, Turkey will remain on the outside looking in. The French could elect Abdullah Gül and it still wouldn’t change a thing.
For what it’s worth, outside experts appear to believe that Turkey’s future if it does not soon join the EU is going to be one that looks very different from its present. Foreign Policy surveyed 59 experts (including heads of state and foreign and defense ministers) about issues relating to NATO, and on the question of Turkey’s orientation in five years if it is still not a member of the EU, 21 believed that Turkey would pursue a revival of Ottoman power, 13 that it would be more closely aligned with its Muslim neighbors, and only 11 that Turkey would still be closely aligned with its Western allies. The point of bringing this up is not to allege that Turkey is on the verge of anything drastic, but to illustrate the European and American perception that Turkey’s reliability as an ally is in many ways contingent on it officially joining Europe in the form of becoming an EU member. If this perception holds and Turkey is not able to join the EU, the consequences will be bad for all parties involved. It is encouraging to see Turkish optimism over the EU once again, but the optimism will continue to be entirely misplaced so long as Turkey continues to fool itself over what true obstacles remain in its path. It is altogether possible that Turkey could do everything that is asked of it and still get rejected for xenophobic cultural reasons, and if that does indeed happen, it will be the EU’s loss. But Turkey as of now is not doing everything that is required to mount a successful accession bid, and that has not changed just because we now have President Hollande.