2013-08-19

President Gul calls for renewed focus on EU bid

His statement presents an opportunity to deepen regional co-operation, analysts said.

By Menekse Tokyay for SES Türkiye in Istanbul -- 19/08/13

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President Abdullah Gul's recent appeal to focus on EU accession and abandon political polarisation offers a chance to revive the reform process, experts told SES Türkiye.

  • European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (left) shakes hands with President Abdullah Gul before a meeting in Ankara. [AFP]

    European Council President Herman Van Rompuy (left) shakes hands with President Abdullah Gul before a meeting in Ankara. [AFP]

Gul, an ardent supporter of EU membership, said in his Eid message that Turkey's future is in Europe.

"It is crucial from now on that everyone realise this fact and focus on our brighter future. We must be in unshakable solidarity and concentrate on great objectives that will carry Turkey to the level of modern civilisation, such as membership in the EU and a new constitution," Gul said in his written message.

"We will resolutely continue the necessary reforms to raise our country to the level of the most advanced economies, deepen our democracy and legal system and broaden human rights and freedoms. We are aware of the fact that this will consolidate the atmosphere of peace and the will to live together side by side," he added.

The statement came amid deadlock in the accession process. Only one of 35 accession chapters have been closed since negotiations began in 2005. The harsh police response to the Gezi Park protests also drew criticism in Europe, with Brussels deciding not to open a chapter on regional policies until the next progress report on Turkey is released in October.

Cigdem Nas, general secretary of the Istanbul-based Economic Development Foundation, welcomed Gul's message as a way to add momentum to the reforms.

"It is important to consider the democratic maturation process in parallel with the EU membership process, because one of the immediate influences of the EU accession process is its inspiration for furthering democracy and pluralism in a country," Nas told SES Türkiye.

Turkey's democratic shortcomings and social polarisation surfaced during the Gezi Park unrest, Nas said, adding that the EU membership bid offers decision-makers a common perspective for addressing thorny issues like human rights and the Kurdish dispute.

"With the opening of a new chapter in October and the release of the progress report, Turkey has a golden opportunity to accelerate its efforts for the opening of more chapters and place more emphasis on the resolution of the Cyprus conflict. That would show its determination and commitment to the EU accession bid," Nas told SES Türkiye.

Sinem Acikmese, a professor of international relations at Istanbul's Kadir Has University, said concrete action is needed to advance the membership bid.

"Turkey needs deeds, not words, for the revival of the EU accession process as well as the democratic reform process, both of which have been stalled since 2005, paradoxically at a time when the EU opened negotiations with Turkey," Acikmese told SES Türkiye.

Lisel Hintz, a visiting research fellow at Ankara's Bilkent University's political science department, said the outcome of the accession bid depends on both Ankara and Brussels resisting the temptation to use it for political reasons.

According to Hintz, political, economic, judicial, and cultural reforms in line with EU standards have reduced the role of the military in politics and thus the chance of another military coup, boosted economic growth, and allowed for increased religious expression in public.

At the same time, she added, the reforms have "stacked many courts in the AKP's favour, and have been used to justify increasing incursions on individuals' everyday lives in such areas as women's rights, education, and even television viewing," she told SES Türkiye.

Though critical of the government's response to the Gezi Park protests, Hintz also accused Brussels of being cold to Turkey despite the reforms it has undertaken.

"The only way EU accession can contribute to Turkey's democratisation is if it is approached not as a strategy for advancing party interests but as a genuine effort to bring fundamental principles such as effective political participation, rule of law, freedoms of speech and assembly, and freedom of religious expression to Turkey's entire population," she said.

The government has long said it is committed to EU membership.

"This process is extraordinarily important from the standpoint of us becoming a more democratic, transparent, and prosperous country," chief negotiator Egeman Bagis said recently.

What can Turkey do to improve its EU prospects? Share your thoughts in the comments area below.

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