Ankara. Photo: flickr/Mrmya
Ankara. Photo: flickr/Mrmya

The European debate on Turkey

The widespread sense among observers that the Turkish EU accession process might be headed for imminent failure has been present from its very outset. Contrary to the conventional wisdom, however, the risk of a "train crash" in the accession talks is minimal. The reason for this is reassuringly self-evident: it is neither in Turkey's interest, nor the EU's, to derail the accession train.

We predict that even ten years from now, unless Turkey will have joined the EU as a full member, the accession process will be ongoing. Today's relationship between Turkey and the EU is like a Catholic marriage: divorce is not an option for either side. The only question then is whether the couple will be happy or not and the only special partnership that is acceptable to Turkey and to the vast majority of EU members is one they have today – an open-ended accession process.

One area where the EU has discriminated against Turkey has been in the field of visa-free travel. This suggests an obvious way to show that EU conditionality vis-à-vis Turkey remains "strict but fair": to offer Ankara a visa roadmap similar to that which has been given to Western Balkan countries. Once the roadmap requirements are met, Turkish citizens should be able to travel to the EU without a visa. Visa-free travel to the EU is a right enjoyed by Central Europeans (since the early 1990s) and by most people living in the Western Balkans (since 2009). The EU already promised it to Turkey under the 1963 Association Agreement. A credible visa liberalisation process would provide tangible evidence to ordinary citizens that the EU remains committed to a future integration perspective. It would also be a useful tool to advance the implementation of non-discrimination policies and promote further improvements in Turkey's human rights record, bringing down still high rates of asylum requests granted to Turkish citizens in EU member states. Such a reform process would be a win-win proposition for the EU and Turkey and a big shot in the arm for the accession process.

Video: ECFR podcast on Europeanization. Copyright: 2011 ECFR. All rights reserved.
Gerald Knaus on Turkish foreign policy seen from Istanbul, February 2011 (audio).
Copyright: 2011 ECFR reports. All rights reserved.
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