Conventional wisdoms about Turkish accession to the EU
In October 2005 the European Union opened accession negotiations with Turkey, the world's 15th largest economy. Since then, Turkey has endeavoured to adapt a huge part of its legislation to the approximately 130,000 pages of rules and regulations that apply to all EU member states, as stated on the webpage on the EU delegation to Turkey. The pace of the accession talks, if measured by the number of negotiation chapters opened and closed, has been slow. By November 2010, Turkey had opened 13 chapters and closed just one. Croatia, which started negotiations at the same time, had opened 33 chapters and closed 25 during the same period. No wonder that the past few years have witnessed increasing fears that Turkey's accession process might be grounding to a halt.
For the most part, the naysayers have referred to one or more of the following four "conventional wisdoms":
- The process will "die with a bang" (a fundamental disagreement over policy will result in a "train wreck").
- The process will "die with a whimper" (both sides will run out of chapters to negotiate).
- The process is destined for failure because of European Islamophobia, double standards and popular opposition to Turkey's accession in key member states.
- The process is destined for failure because of the Turkish elite's unwillingness to make concessions on key policy issues and to seriously embrace EU standards.
The conclusion for those who believe in one or more of these scenarios is that the accession process is already a dead letter; and that while it may continue, neither side takes it seriously enough anymore to invest in making it a success.
In fact, such speculation is misplaced. The Turkish accession process is far more resilient, be it to outside shocks, political rhetoric or "enlargement fatigue", than meets the eye. Today's relationship between Turkey and the EU is like a Catholic marriage. Divorce is simply not an option. The real question, which obviously matters enormously to both sides, is whether the couple can be a happy one. And the only "special relationship" that is acceptable to Turkey and to the vast majority of EU members is one they have today – an open-ended accession process.