The Turkish ambassador to the Netherlands has almost ended his posting, which started in 2007. Dutch foreign affairs minister Verhagen paid him a farewell visit and twittered about it: ‘Had farewell talk with Turkish ambassador about the need for further reforms in his country’. I’ve thought it so many times before, and again it came to mind: Is this constant pressure on Turkey for more democratic reforms really the best way to reach the goal?
Turkey is a proud country, proud of its history in which they became independent from western intruders, and the sentiments about independence are still very strong. Turkey wants to define its own policies, its own ways of reforming, like any other country. Wouldn’t it be good to give them the chance to do that without interference?
Many people say Turkey would never have seen so many democratic reforms as it has if it weren’t for the EU accession process. Agreed. But over the last few years, the reforms have been very slow. For many reasons, one of which being the strong opposition to Turkey’s membership within the EU itself, mostly from France and Germany. So who is the EU to pressure Turkey to speed up reforms? And could the pressures combined with this opposition inside the EU have something to do with Turkey going slow?
The pressure from the EU also definitely influences the course of Turkey’s domestic politics. For example, the government is often criticised for following the EU like a puppy, or even of using the EU as an excuse to break the power of secular forces in the country. And whenever the opposition opposes a law, the easy way to criticize them is to ask if they are no longer committed to becoming an EU member. And don’t forget the Turkish public. More or less half of the population is still pro-EU membership, but there are deep emotions too: we should reform because we need and want to be a more democratic country, not because the EU tells us to do so.
So when I read Maxime Verhagen’s twitter, I think: wouldn’t it be refreshing to try a totally different approach and just let the Turks be? They know what it takes to become a member, so give them time to deal with it themselves while in Brussels and Ankara the negotiations continue. But I’m afraid the EU and the norms of international politics and diplomacy will never give way to that idea.