The European Union made three strategic mistakes: it did not accept Türkiye’s application for membership in 1959. Türkiye applied for association with the European Economic Community (EEC) (later renamed European Community (EC) , precursor to the European Union) on 31 July. , 1959, only 19 months after its foundation. At the time, Prime Minister Adnan Menderes and Foreign Minister Fatin Rüştü Zorlu signed the request. However, the negotiations were interrupted after the military coup in Türkiye in 1960. Years passed and when the EEC received the new candidacy of Türkiye and the Ankara Agreement (the Association Agreement) was signed, Türkiye began seeking to become a full member of the community. The process had three stages, preparation, transition and establishment of the customs union with the ultimate goal of full membership. The meetings of the joint parliamentary committee followed one another.
With additional protocols for these or tenders that entered into force or were abolished in the years that followed, the EEC transformed into the EC and later into the EU. With its umpteenth “temporary agreement”, the EU has abolished customs duties and quantitative restrictions for industrial products imported from Turkey or imposed new ones on agricultural products imported from Turkish suppliers. Faced with these confusing EU implementations, Turkey promised to gradually abolish tariffs for EU industrial products and a 22-year timetable was set for the establishment of the customs union.
However, relations between Turkey and the EU were interrupted when the European Parliament suspended the agreement due to the military coup in the country in 1980. Four years later, the Association Council reunited and Turkey submitted a new application for full membership in accordance with Article 237 of the Treaty of Rome, Article 98 of the European Coal and Steel Community and Article 205 of the European Community of atomic energy (EURATOM).
Well, we all thought that was it; Turkey, putting another military coup behind it, was on its way to becoming a European nation, 457 years after its first coup in Europe. If one carefully examines the history of the early Anatolian Turkic states (Seljuks and Ottomans), one finds that their thrust has always been westward towards Europe, whether militarily, commercially or diplomatically. Turks have always aspired to be part of the West, not the East. Professor Bernard Lewis, a British-American historian specializing in Oriental studies, has shown, in his own words, “Turkey’s stark contrast to other Muslim countries in the Middle East regarding Westernization” throughout its history. . Therefore, when on 15 September 1988 the European Parliament took the decision to relaunch the meetings of the Joint Parliamentary Committee, we in Turkey rejoiced.
Finally, Türkiye was about to become a full member of the EC. The only hurdle was making superficial adjustments to some laws and regulations, but these would be taken care of in what they call the Turkey-EU Association Committee meetings. All of these compliance issues regarding community laws would be resolved quickly. After all, both parties seemed very excited about fixing these fit issues. Turkey had already adopted European registration plates and replaced millions of existing plates on vehicles. They looked European with the 12 gold stars on the blue rectangle on them.
However, who would have expected that the collapse of the Berlin Wall would lead to the erection of another wall on Turkey’s road to full membership? In the last days of the Cold War, the Western brothers first wanted to reunite with their Central and Eastern European brothers. Turkiye could wait; he had been waiting for nearly half a century, anyway!
This is, in my opinion, the last historical and strategic error of the EU regarding Turkey. It could have finalized Türkiye’s candidacy with this euphoria. With the 100th meeting of the Turkey-EU Association Committee, we started to hear complaints that Turkey’s wish to be a member would never be considered by the EU, especially Germany. From then on, the European Commission began to tell Türkiye that its application for full membership could not be accepted until its economic, social and political developments were realized.
Turkey had a new coalition government every four months during those years, and EU membership was the last thing on its political mind. Yet the people of the country were fed up with these short-lived governments and after 2002 the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) government introduced a new approach to EU membership. Parliament passed a law establishing the “EU Harmonization Commission” and the EU Council of Ministers adopted Turkey’s Accession Partnership Document – Turkey’s National Program for the adoption of the acquis communautaire, the application, coordination and monitoring of Turkey’s national programme.
With this fanciful headline, the EU simply declared that it would see if Turkey had sufficiently implemented the political criteria, and then it would open EU accession negotiations on October 3, 2004. Encouraged and reinvigorated, Turkey appointed a government minister as chief negotiator. in EU accession negotiations.
Meanwhile, the EU was busy getting 10 new members without paying any attention to the political criteria; in this haste, the Greek half of Cyprus was accepted as a full member, representing “the Republic of Cyprus”. This was the final straw in the series of historical errors of Europeans.
Regarding Türkiye, there was no republic on the island of Cyprus: only two communities, Turkish and Greek. After the Greek-backed military coup, the Zurich and London agreements that had established the republic ceased to be implemented. The Turks created their own republic in the north and the Greeks in the south. The Greek side had rejected the UN plan to relaunch unification talks in 2004. But the EU accepted the Greek regional government in the south as the sole representative of the now defunct Republic of Cyprus. Turkey did not recognize the entity to the south and Greece did not recognize the north.
Thus, Turkey, in 2005, signing an “additional protocol” to extend the Ankara agreement of 1963, concerning the 10 new members, issued a declaration and declared that the signing of the additional protocol did not mean the recognition of the Greek Cyprus. The EU issued a statement against Türkiye’s statement, stating that Türkiye must fully apply the protocol to all EU members; Türkiye said: “No way!” Then the UN proposed a new formula to include the proposal that the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus (TRNC) be considered part of “something” so that its isolation would be lifted. Later, the Türkiye reopened its ports to Greek ships, so the endless meetings on regulatory harmonization chapters started again.
Ten years later, Turkey had a minister in charge of renewed and reinvigorated relations with the EU and Egemen Bağış, Minister for European Affairs, was appointed chief negotiator with the EU. Seven ministers later, the Ministry of European Affairs was dissolved to be replaced by the Directorate for European Affairs, a sub-unit of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Bağış is currently Türkiye’s ambassador to the Czech Republic.
After this long summary of the history of Turkey and the EU, one would expect that relations have deteriorated somewhat. Well no! Ambassador Bağış recently spoke with Czech media about the upcoming “informal EU summit”, which will be hosted by the Czech government at Prague Castle. He expressed Turkey’s hope to be among the countries invited to the meeting. The summit will bring together 48 European leaders. “As a candidate country, Turkey must be invited,” Bağış said in an interview for Lidovky magazine.
Bağış, who was born in Bingöl and holds a BA and MA from the City University of New York, said Türkiye was waiting for the invitation: “We have not yet received an official invitation for President Erdoğan attends the summit in Prague, but we are expecting it. .”
Until a few years ago, candidate countries were invited to EU summits. Bağış thinks this demonstrates European unity while encouraging candidate countries. However, he added, the EU currently discriminates against Turkey: six other candidates and potential candidate countries are regularly invited to EU-Western Balkans summits, but Turkey, a candidate country since 1999, has not been invited to these summits or ministerial meetings. .
With these three historical and strategic missteps, could the EU correct its attitude towards Turkey? The Prague summit could be the right place to show the EU’s will about this correction if it ever materializes.
At Prague Castle, EU leaders will create what is called the “European Political Community” (EPC). It will be offered as an intermediate step towards full EU membership. Bağış said, “Not only as a candidate country, but also as a European nation contributing in several fields, Turkey and its representatives should participate in the EPC summit.”
I don’t want to spoil Ambassador Bağış’s goodwill towards the EU for which he worked as a government negotiator; he would naturally know what to expect and what not to expect. Diplomats sometimes say things they don’t even expect.
Turkey at least officially continues to exist as a candidate country. The EU should not think that if it winks the proverbial eye, Turkey will disappear. He should close his eyes and think about what would happen if he had a Türkiye who is no longer a candidate on his southern flank.