The panel on EU-Turkey ties at the Bled Strategic Forum, dubbed “The EU and Turkey – Where do we go from Here?”, saw broad-based agreement that partnership is the only option, in whatever form, since Turkey is a firm part of Europe. But in order for Turkey to actually join the EU as a full-fledged member, a change in public perceptions is needed on both sides while internal divisions in Europe need to be tackled.
Mr Murat Bilhan, Director of the Foreign Policy Platform at the Istanbul Kültür University, said the best scenario looking forward would be to turn existing relations into some sort of partnership, whereby Turkey’s expectation is full membership of the EU.
“None of the partners has the luxury of denying the existence and influence of the other,” he said, suggesting that the EU stood to lose more if the relationship sours. Europe cannot have a continuous anti-Turkish policy or policy of ignoring Turkish interests forever.
The representative of the Turkish government on the panel, Mr Mehmet Hasan Göğüş, Deputy Undersecretary for European Affairs at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, noted that there was frustration in Turkey over the delays in the accession process.
Public support for the EU is still over 50%, but confidence has dropped to 14%, Mr Göğüş said in view of the accession negotiations being stalled due to political, not technical objections.
President Franco Frattini, President of the Italian Society for International Organisation, noted that there were three main assumptions with which to analyse EU-Turkey relations: Turkey is already part of Europe; Europe’s interest in Turkey joining the EU is just as strong as Turkey’s interest; and the question of what Turkey should do to get closer to the EU and what the EU should do in practical terms.
Proposing possible solutions going forward, Pres. Frattini said Turkey should continue the implementation of reforms, which are needed for the good of the Turkish people, not for the sake of Brussels. The people should be convinced that Turkey will benefit, not that requirements are being imposed upon them.
Europe, on the other hand, should offer Turkey more solidarity, including by helping it deal with the Syrian refugee crisis, liberalising visas and convincing Cyprus that it cannot veto everything regarding Turkey.
Mr Roman Jakič, Minister of Defence of the Republic of Slovenia, agreed with Mr Frattini and pointed out that the EU cannot have double standards. “I’m not saying countries should enter the EU without fulfilling criteria, but we cannot have double criteria.”
Mr Jakič, who emphasised that Slovenia was a strong advocate of accession in general and of Turkey joining in particular, noted that Turkey was being paradoxically called a bridge between East and West, but in Europe conservatives and liberals are divided exactly on that line.
Mr Gergely Prohle, Deputy State Secretary at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Hungary, who stressed Central and Eastern European member states were staunch supporters of Turkey’s membership, also noted that Europe’s internal divisions ought to be addressed.
He said such debates needed to take into account the domestic policies of individual member states. “We are a community of democratic states, we have to convince the people,” he pointed out as he addressed the opposition to Turkey even in the face of strong arguments in favour of its EU membership.
During Bled Strategic Forum 2013 Pres. Franco Frattini met the Slovenian Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence