Turkey looks east, after failed attempts to join EU

Turkey has distinctly turned its interest toward membership in the Shanghai Cooperation Organization after its failed attempts to join the European Union.

al-monitor Turkey's Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu shows a Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) pin after a signing ceremony granting Turkey a partner status in Almaty, Kazakhstan, April 26, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Shamil Zhumatov.

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turkish politics, turkish hubris, turkish foreign relations, turkish foreign policy, shanghai cooperation organization (sco), eu bid, eu

Nov 28, 2013

During his visit to Russia, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan reiterated his desire for Turkey to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO). The first time he uttered that desire it was largely played down. But its repetition suggests that the matter is serious and that the prime minister is genuinely yearning to join this particular club.

Moreover, the attitude he displays on the issue hardly meshes with the haughtiness we are used to seeing in him. When he first said it, his interlocutors gave no reaction, apparently thinking that this could not be a serious demand. By repeating it now, he reduces himself to the position of pleading.

The second plea came in a wrapping, and when you look closely at the wrapping you realize that it tells more than the plea itself. Erdogan wants the SCO to “save us from the trouble of Europe.”

The EU is a futuristic form of a union. It has encountered myriad problems and hitches ever since its foundation. Some have been overcome, while others have not yet. Its current troubles stem mostly from economic issues.

Part of the EU’s problems are related to it being the organization of the future. Most of its members — and here I mean nations, institutions and individuals — are not yet ready for that future, with their actions shaped by obsolete habits and narrow-minded calculations of interest. That’s why the EU has failed to emerge as one integral entity and fully realize the potential its establishment has created. But one day it will. The evolution will continue and, sooner or later, all members will take in the transnational democratic values the EU represents. The EU will become a model for other regions and lead the way.

Those who came together in Shanghai make an international alliance typical of the old world. Their limited objectives cannot even compare to those of the EU. The SCO is basically a security organization with no goal of “democracy.” Hence, noninterference in fellow members’ internal affairs is an essential principle.

In Turkey, we have been told for years that the EU is interfering in our internal affairs. But this is exactly the very threat that makes the EU the union model of the future. Being the organization of those who aspire to live in a genuine democracy with full respect for human rights, the EU is entitled to say “You can’t do that!” to those who do not act accordingly. It has used this authority to the extent of stopping Austria’s fascist party from ascending to power.

In this context, Erdogan’s reiteration of his desire to be part of the SCO, coupled with a notion to “save us from the trouble of Europe,” takes on a larger meaning. It tells us which world Erdogan wants to live in.

As I mentioned above, the EU often falls behind the potential it represents. One area that clearly illustrates this shortcoming is the opposition of some members to Turkey’s membership. The Europeans’ prejudices and other inhibitions are crystallizing here. Yet, the general trend of evolution remains at work on this issue as well.

But what if former French President Nicolas Sarkozy came up and said, “Didn’t I tell you? How could a country accede to the European Union when its prime minister keeps pleading to join the Shanghai group?” How could we possibly answer this question?

Other people may easily express such views, but the person in question is someone with a record level of electoral support and huge popularity. Then, one would assume he has public support on this issue as well. So how could a nation have a place in the EU when it grumbles about “the trouble of Europe” while feeling no trouble at all in belonging together with Uzbekistan?

Erdogan may take pride in camaraderie with Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, but this is up to him. He is in no way entitled, however, to deviate Turkey from its historical route just to satisfy his personal tastes.

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