Turkey’s Own Ways

U.S. President Barack Obama’s support of Turkish accession into the EU brings waves of uncertainty for many Europeans

News | Nayeli Urquiza | May 2009

Turkish President Abdullah Gul and U.S. President Barack Obama greet guards during a welcoming ceremony at the Cankaya Presidential Palace in Istanbul on Apr. 6 (Photo: Getty Images)

After a successful trip to Europe, the glitter surrounding Obama’s first official trip to the continent dwindled down in the East, when the president of the U.S. openly supported Turkey’s accession to the EU, sending rifts of criticism from France to Germany.

In Austria, Erhard Busek, Co-ordinator of the Southeast European Co-operative Initiative (SECI), explained that while Obama might believe that Europe and Turkey share more than a common border and that it belongs to it, his public support will not change Europe’s mind.

"Obama is really convinced that Turkey belongs to Europe. But to a certain point his comments are irrelevant," said Erhard Busek, in an interview with The Vienna Review.

Instead of being directed at the EU, Busek said they might have been aimed at supporting Minister Erdogan’s internal reforms. Reforms to the penal code in 2005 were justified by Erdogan’s administration to accommodate Europe’s accession requirements, but in reality, they are meant to stabilize Turkey.

"Turkey is not aiming to become a member of EU today, tomorrow or next year" said Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna on Apr. 15, "what is important for now is the process itself, the process by which Turkey continuously raise de standards."

Busek, who was also Special Representative of the Austrian Government on EU-Enlargement until 2001, said Europeans who are in favor of Turkey’s accession feel some sort of responsibility, a devotion to the theme.

But in Turkey, the talk about becoming members has silenced. In his last visit to Izimir, several Turkish ministers who attended the conference did not even mention Turkey’s desire to become the 28th member of the EU.

Erdogan’s administration has done more reforms than all its past rulers in the last 70 years of the Turkish state according to the BBC.  Among the reforms made in the name of Europe, the central bank became an independent institution, a move which has stabilized Turkey economy.

Fundamental reforms to enhance freedom of the media have deteriorated after article 301 of the penal code was reformed in 2005. Nobel Prize Laureate Orhan Pamuk and Hrant Dink, murdered in 2007 by Turkish nationalists, are among the journalists and writers charged of insulting Turkey under this law.

Political stability is still in question after the 2007 elections when the military threatened to overthrow Abdullah Gül’s nomination, as he was seen as a threat to the country’s secularity.

Although the U.S. wants to have Turkey’s unconditional support, functioning as a bridge Middle East, Caucasus, Black Sea Region, and Russia, Busek said Turkey wants to have its own role in international politics.

"I believe Turkey is not going to go in the same direction of the U.S." but "right now it is not easy to predict how things will develop," said Busek.

Babacan said Turkey has an important responsibility and also a role to play ever since the Sept. 11 attacks because the combination of Islam democracy and secularism "allows it to play a conciliatory role for quite a wide region."

Obama wants to bring Turkey into a more prominent role but it remains to be seen whether Turkey piggyback on US’s goals or go its own way, taking advantage of its hybrid characteristics, which no other country in the EU has.

Other articles from this issue