Given the objective difficulties facing the EU membership negotiations in Turkey, what are the prospects of the EU-Turkey relations in the short and medium-run? The conference “Rethinking Turkey and Europe in a Turbulent World” – held on April 19 at the Middle East Technical University (METU) in Ankara, with the support of the EU delegation to Turkey and the PRIMO project – put together prominent International Relations (IR) scholars, practitioners and students to address this timely question. The conference was organised on the occasion of the retirement of Prof Atila Eralp, a leading Turkish scholar in the field of EU studies, founder of both the IR Department and the Centre for European Studies (Jean Monnet Centre of Excellence) at METU.
The conference featured predominantly Turkish scholars (with the exception of Prof Wolfgang Wessels, Director of the Centre for Turkey and European Union Studies at the University of Cologne), who took stock of the latest political and economic developments both in Turkey and in the EU, as well as the latest theoretical approaches to the academic study of EU-Turkey relations. While the representative of the EU delegation to Turkey, Gabriel Munera-Vinals, reiterated the EU’s firm commitment to the negotiations, the vast majority of the participants ruled out the prospect of Turkey joining the EU in the next decade(s). Yet, all of the participants acknowledged the fact that Turkey is currently integrated to the EU in multiple fields, ranging from trade, common foreign and security policy, justice and home affairs to energy cooperation. Some of the participants also suggested alternative approaches to overcome the current impasse in the relations; in particular, they mentioned the concept of “differentiated integration” as a way for non-EU members to maintain their sovereignty, while remaining an integral part of the European integration process.
Should Turkey follow this “differentiated integration” path, it would be more than a “strategic partner”, but remain less than a full-fledged EU member state. However, this may well be a pragmatic and solid scenario, also in light of the current disenchantment with the membership process both in Turkey and in the EU. The participants vocally agreed on one point: given the difficult political situation and the rift splitting Turkish society (made clear by the result of the recent constitutional referendum), the EU is all the more needed in Turkey. While the EU needs to keep maintaining close ties with the Turkish government to cope with transnational issues such as the so-called “refugee crisis”, it should not forget about Turkish civil society and the European democratic values that many of its members still identify with.