On 8 May FRIDE organised a conference entitled “Turkey’s role in Europe. Looking beyond the membership question – social cohesion, shared values and parallel security interests”, as part of its “FRIDE in Casa de Galicia” series of seminars.
Spanish policy-makers, international diplomats, academics and civil society representatives gathered to discuss Turkey-EU relations, but also to look beyond the membership question to assessing increased cooperation in other fields.
|From left to right: Nilüfer Narli, from Bahçesehir University of Istanbul; Pierre Schori, Director General of FRIDE; and Ingmar Karlsson, Swedish General Consul in Istanbul
The following points were discussed:
- What is the state of play in EU-Turkey relations? Is there a change in EU popular and governmental opinions with regard to the Turkish accession question? And in what direction has public opinion shifted in Turkey since membership talks started?
- While radical Islam has become a serious concern in most, if not all, EU-member states, this issue has also become part of a broader debate on integration of Islamic minorities in EU countries resulting in rising support for radical nationalist sentiments. Meanwhile the issue of the role of religion in society and, on the other hand, countering extremism is not new to Turkey. During the summer Turkey underwent a political crisis over the appointment of President Gül of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) and another crisis is currently unfolding over the Chief Prosecutors’ lawsuit against the ruling AKP over the headscarf issue. What can the EU and Turkey learn from each other in fostering religious tolerance and countering radicalism?
- Turkey is centrally located between the EU and countries that participate in the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP). In the northeast the Southern Caucasus countries, and to the southeast Lebanon, Jordan and Syria, are all in Turkey’s vicinity. Turkey plays an important regional role and bridging function. It is a beacon of democracy for the Islamic world and a stable partner for Europe. How can EU-Turkey relations contribute to stabilisation in the Caucasus, Iraq and the wider Middle East?
- Turkey and the EU share many security concerns, most notably the threat of terrorism and transnational crime. Moreover, Turkey is sometimes regarded as a buffer between the EU and the highly unstable Middle East, bordering Iraq, Iran and Syria. As a NATO member, Turkey might further engage in the European Security and Defence Policy (ESDP). How should both partners go about further cooperation and in what aspects of security?
- Linked to the latter security discussion, and the question over Turkey’s membership, is the internal security situation in which the Turkish Armed Forces still play a significant role that exceeds national defence and peacekeeping missions. To what extend is the internal “guardian role” that the military fulfils an obstacle to EU-Turkey relations or a “blessing in disguise” that counters radical Islam in the secular republic?
What follows are two contributions by speakers at the event. The first article by Ingmar Karlsson gives an overview of EU-Turkey relations over the last few decades. The author argues that many European reservations about Turkey’s EU membership are misplaced and that Turkey’s integration into Europe would be an asset instead of a burden. The second article by Nilüfer Narli addresses the main shifts in Turkish politics over the last few years and argues that Turkish political dynamics have entered a new era, both internally as well as in its relations with the European Union.