Turkey’s EU accession: ‘Strategic vision, not fiction’
The Turkish national flag (L) and the EU flag stand ahead of a summit on relations between the European Union and Turkey in Brussels, Belgium, Nov. 29, 2015. (AFP File Photo)

Turkey’s EU accession: ‘Strategic vision, not fiction’

Turkey’s EU membership will contribute to the bloc in several areas, including economy and security, Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakcı said, bashing statements that Ankara’s accession is ‘fiction’.

Turkey’s accession to the European Union is not fictitious, but rather a strategic vision, Deputy Foreign Minister Faruk Kaymakcı said on Saturday, underlining that the country would be the most beneficial addition to the bloc.

Criticizing an article by The Economist that put forth that “the polite fiction that Turkey is a candidate for EU membership is unraveling,” Kaymakcı wrote on Twitter: “Turkey’s EU membership is not a fiction but a strategic vision and will be the most beneficial accession to the EU, when negotiating candidate Turkey fulfills objective membership criteria.”

In a letter to the news outlet, Kaymakcı said to see the cliche that Turkey is too big and Muslim to join the EU is disappointing.

Turkey-EU relations are marked by disputes on several issues, including tensions in the Eastern Mediterranean, Turkey’s role in Syria, the migrant crisis and the stalemate in Turkey’s accession process to join the bloc. During a meeting in Brussels on Dec. 10, EU leaders decided to draw up a list of Turkish targets to sanction. But since then, the rhetoric on all sides has mellowed dramatically as Turkey and the bloc voiced their intent to “turn a new page.”

Turkey recently reiterated that it is part of Europe and sees its future in the EU, adding that it will continue to work toward full membership. Turkish officials have also said that they hope for progress in 2021 and expect the bloc to take definitive action to this end.

Turkey has underlined that it wants to push forward from the “positive” talks and has called for “concrete action” – particularly when it comes to migration.

“The argument that the EU will not accept Turkey whatever its democratic credentials is not only baseless but also unacceptable for both sides,” Kaymakcı said.

The article by The Economist had described the accession process as “dead” and claimed that “Many European voters regard the prospect of such a nation joining the club with horror.”

Kaymakcı stressed that vibrant, secular Turkey would be the most useful of all accession candidates as it can contribute more than others in various fields ranging from the economy to security.

Turkey has the longest history with the union and the longest negotiation process. The country signed an association agreement with the EU’s predecessor in 1964, the European Economic Community (EEC), which is usually regarded as a first step to eventually becoming a candidate. Applying for official candidacy in 1987, Turkey had to wait until 1999 to be granted the status of a candidate country. For the start of the negotiations, however, Turkey had to wait for another six years, until 2005, a uniquely long process compared with other candidates.

The article further claimed that the Turkey-EU relationship is currently only driven by the migration deal struck in 2016. The deputy minister responded by highlighting that the deal does not only cover migration but also reenergizing the accession process, updating the EU-Turkey Customs Union, regular high-level dialogues, visa liberalization and counterterrorism.

Apart from further cooperation on migration and updating the March 18 statement, Ankara expects the modernization of the 1995 EU-Turkey Customs Union and greater emphasis on Turkey’s candidacy to become an EU member.

In September 2015, the image of Syrian toddler Alan Kurdi’s lifeless body washed ashore in Turkey sent shock waves across the world. Six months later, Turkish and EU leaders inked a migration agreement that stipulated that Ankara would receive political and financial benefits in return for tackling migration.

However, Brussels did not keep its promises to ease visa regulations and upgrade the customs union.

Shortly after the deal was struck in May 2016, arrivals of irregular migrants in the European Union dropped sharply – but still remain high. Almost 860,000 irregular migrants made their way from Turkey to Greece by sea in 2015, compared to 60,000 in 2019. The numbers dropped to a record low of 9,714 people in 2020 – although this is likely related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Five years on, the pact is failing as Turkey struggles with the increased number of migrants, while the EU is more divided than ever over its asylum policy.

Turkey is hosting more than 5 million migrants, with nearly 4 million from Syria, its migration authority says. That is 2 million more than in 2016, a heavy burden on a country that only had 60,000 asylum-seekers in 2011 before Syria’s civil war broke out.

Most recently, senior Turkish officials and the European Union’s neighborhood and enlargement commissioner last week met to discuss migration and regional issues.

Oliver Varhelyi and Turkish Presidential Spokesperson Ibrahim Kalın met in the capital Ankara, according to a statement from the Turkish Presidency.

During the meeting, the two officials discussed Turkey’s EU membership process, updating the 2016 deal on migration, cooperation on migration, humanitarian aid, modernizing the customs union, visa liberalization, Cyprus and Afghanistan.

The strategic importance of Turkish-EU relations was also highlighted at the meeting, and it was emphasized that a positive agenda should be maintained, according to the statement.