Assessing Turkey's Foreign Policy Choices towards the European Union

By Muftuler-Bac, Meltem | Insight Turkey, Winter 2017 | Go to article overview

Assessing Turkey's Foreign Policy Choices towards the European Union


Muftuler-Bac, Meltem, Insight Turkey


ABSTRACT Turkey adopted a new strategy for its European Union accession process in 2014, in an attempt to revitalize its relations with the EU. Turkish foreign policy towards the European Union has remained consistent with full membership as its main goal. However, since 2013, there have been significant challenges for the realization of that foreign policy objective, with the altering geopolitical environment and the changing preferences in the European Union. Turkey's own foreign policy choices towards the EU were impacted by the loss of both EU's credibility in its enlargement policy and its attractiveness as an economic magnet. This paper analyzes the role of the EU specific external factors on Turkish foreign policy, and assesses the reformulation of Turkey's relations with the European Union after 2014. The main conclusion of the paper is that Turkey's foreign policy towards the EU has altered and a new pattern of cooperation is emerging between these two players.

Introduction

When Turkey adopted a new strategy for its relations with the European Union in 2014 in order to revitalize the accession process as well as open new avenues of integration, this constituted a critical step in marking the priorities in Turkey's foreign policy. While Turkey's accession to the EU still seemed far off, the new strategy, nonetheless, signaled a renewed commitment to the EU. The changing geopolitical conditions since 2013--increasing uncertainty in the Middle East, a more proactive Russian presence on the European soil, and instability around the Turkish borders--necessitate the continuation and strengthening of Turkey's institutional ties to the part of the world that still resonates some stability. Yet, since 2014, the EU faces unexpected consequences of external crisis and internal challenges. (1) First, the EU confronted a militarily aggressive Russia over Crimea in 2013, second the Syrian crisis and the unprecedented flow of refugees into the European lands paralyzed the EU leaders, and finally when the British voted to leave the EU in 2016, it led to an existentialist struggle for the integration project.

The enhanced uncertainty over the EU as a project of peace and stability seems to indicate that even if and when Turkey aims to solidify its relations with the EU, it depends on the European willingness to do so. (2) As a result, this paper aims to illustrate the multiple layers of complexities in Turkey's foreign policy choices towards the European Union by focusing on how changing external conditions shaped and constrained these choices.

Turkey has always had a highly turbulent relationship with the European Union, dating back to its Association Agreement, the Ankara Treaty, signed in 1963. (3) Turkey's accession negotiations with the EU, which began in 2005, were stalled in 2013, partly because of the EU member states' diverging material interests. (4) As of 2017, the Turkish chances of acceding to the EU remain slim. While the Cold War years more-or-less determined Turkey's role in Europe and its relations with the European countries in line with the balance of power system at the time, the end of the Cold War and the structural transformation underway since then challenged the pillars of that order. (5) The European Union also went through significant changes in the last 15 years, both in terms of institutional reforms and widening the Union to encompass most of the European geographical landmass. (6) The inclusion of the Central and Eastern European countries into the EU in 2004-2007, (7) the changing geopolitical landscape and internal developments within the EU influenced Turkish foreign policy towards the EU.

This paper looks at these changing dynamics of the Turkish-EU relations and proposes that while the EU remained an important actor in Turkish foreign policy, the EU driven dynamics impacted Turkey's foreign policy choices. The EU's credibility as a negotiating partner coupled with new security risks posed by instability in the Middle East, in particular the Syrian civil war and the refugee crisis, led to significant changes in Turkey's relations with the EU. …

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