Delivering the opening remarks at the Turkey-European Union Joint Parliamentary Committee meeting [Feb. 14] in Ankara, Parliament Speaker Cemil Cicek said: “Our goal is full membership to the EU. We will never accept any other status, or an alternative. If in fact there is any other preference, there is no need to keep Turkey waiting.” Turkey’s chief negotiator with EU, Egemen Bagis, also gave the same message with a strong emphasis. In return though, Ria Oomen-Ruijten, the European Parliament rapporteur on Turkey, asked for calm in rhetoric. “Bashing the EU, European Parliament and member states is not the way for constructive dialog,” she said.
Turkey’s ruling party, however, is expressing frustration with the EU process. During his official visit to Prague last week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan accused the EU of being “disrespectful” to Turkey — at least. “We have been patient all this time. How far have we come? When you look, there is the Customs Union  and Helsinki Summit [1999, when Turkey was given candidate status,] and the official start of Turkey’s negotiations,” Erdogan said. “Except these three, they only engaged us. Has any other country been treated like this? No. This is in essence disrespect to Turkey.”
Since Turkey officially applied to become a full member of the European family, a half-century has passed to no avail, and Turks by and large have lost their enthusiasm, or the notion as to why being a member of the EU can be important for Turkey. They perceive it as an old continent, crawling in economic crisis, yet still full of itself in a snobbish attitude that looks down to those considered different from them — religiously, ethnically, by birth, or whatever.
So, when Turkish prime minister asks, “What is more natural than us expressing this situation?” for Turks the answer is very clear: Nothing!
“Three out of every four constituents does not believe that Turkey will become a full EU member at the end of this process,” Aykan Erdemir, Republican People’s Party (CHP) Bursa deputy and a member of the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, told Al-Monitor. “But we also know that more than 60% of the people was in favor of Turkey’s EU membership just a few years back.”
That takes us to a key point in Turkey-EU relations: Although it’s been that long, people still talk about this relationship as if they don’t have any depth, but like they have met yesterday. The public often makes up its mind based on the rhetoric coming from their leadership.
The point is not that Turkey’s opposition would have performed better in moving the accession talks. In fact, Erdogan argues that the opposition has stalked his efforts of moving the EU process, and that it was under his leadership that Turkey has taken the most important steps in this ideal, but CHP deputy Erdemir has a critical observation: “The Turkish public has always been negatively impacted by the prejudiced right-wing European politicians' statements on Turkey, but Turkey’s politicians and statesmen should be able to look through these handicaps and not get stuck in this populist politics,” he says.
“This process [Turkey’s EU membership] is surely a long one, but it’s also not true to claim that Turkey has done all its homework on its democracy, human rights, basic rights and freedoms concerns, as well as its cultural and social aspects.”
In public or media though, Turks don’t talk about these because they still mostly engage in a primitive relationship — one that really does not register a belonging. The EU unfortunately failed to reach out to the ordinary Mehmet or Ayse on the Turkish streets, but left them to think that they’re rejected because they’re Muslims, or have a darker skin texture than Europeans. This comes actually from my latest conversation with a cab driver and those chats are literally the most valuable to get the pulse of the street. One would have hoped that these days have passed, and Europe has a better recognition as a friend and ally.
Yet when Erdogan speaks with his definitive rhetoric, and asks, “What’s the fondness of these Europeans with terrorists?” and touches on the nerves of the street that European countries have supported those who wanted to harm this country in blood and treasure, he probably spurs the support of the nation standing tall right behind him.
These are, however, old tactics that belong to pre-Cold War, pre-9/11 era — where Erdogan claims that he saved Turkey from the opposition who could not make the change to adjust to the new world order. Maybe, therefore, it would be best to recall Norman Vincent Peale with one of his favorite quotes: Change your thoughts, and you change your world.
Or, in the words of Aykan Erdemir, “If you really want to become a member of the European Union because you believe you share the same values with them, and if you’re really determined to accomplish this ideal, then your responsibility is not to put fire on these populist sayings, but to calm the rhetoric, and invest in developing the understanding and appreciation of these common values — with a constructive dialogue — both domestically, and with EU partners.”
Tulin Daloglu is a columnist for Al-Monitor's Turkey Pulse. She has written extensively for various Turkish and American publications, including The New York Times, International Herald Tribune, The Middle East Times, Foreign Policy, The Daily Star (Lebanon) and the SAIS Turkey Analyst Report. She also had a regular column at The Washington Times for almost four years. In the 2002 general election, Daloglu ran for a seat in the Turkish parliament as a member of the New Turkey Party. She earned BS and MA degrees in international relations at the Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey, and completed an MA degree in journalism and public affairs at American University in Washington, D.C.