The EU at a turning point

Center for European Studies / Middle East Technical University
The future of the EU after the rejection of the Lisbon Treaty by the Irish referendum has found a broad coverage by the Turkish media in the reporting period, particularly with regards to its implications for Turkey’s EU accession. The exemptions Ireland was able to secure found a large reflection in the media, which underlined that the summit invited Ireland to hold a second referendum on the Lisbon Treaty.
The prevailing argument, in this regard, is that the EU is at a difficult turning point. The European Council meeting of December 2008 makes it possible to outline the challenges that the EU faces. The biggest problem is seen as the Lisbon Treaty’s, and thus the EU’s, future. It is argued that the economic climate and the deepening recession, coupled with political problems, pose a huge question mark on the future of the EU.[1] It is noted that following the Irish ‘No’, the Czech Republic and Poland also show similar tendencies to reject the treaty. It is therefore expected that the EU will pay special efforts, during 2009, in weakening the ‘No’ camp in Ireland,[2] since it is believed that a second Irish ‘No’ to the treaty would mean ‘death’ for the Union.[3] While Ireland succeeded in getting some exemptions with regard to the treaty, this is expected to open the way for other smaller countries to do the same, and it is emphasised that the EU prefers to give exemptions to countries, rather than shelving the treaty altogether. This, in turn, prepares the way for bargains and negotiations, which point to a ‘multi-vitesse’ Europe.[4]
Czech Presidency
Remarkable attention has been paid to the future of the EU in the short-term, focussing on the foreseen developments under the Czech Presidency. The Presidency of the Czech Republic is being widely conceived as the presidency of an ‘anti-Lisbon’ member state. In this context, it has been noted that the Czech Presidency of the EU did not come at a good time, particularly in the light of a challenging period marked by the economic crisis and the clouds over the Lisbon Treaty after the Irish ‘No’. It has been underlined that the presidency of a member state which has not itself ratified the treaty would be problematic, especially after the successful French Presidency.[5]
Enlargement and Turkey’s accession
Not surprisingly, the future of the EU is mostly discussed in relation to the enlargement project and Turkey’s EU membership prospects. There are both ‘negative’ and ‘positive’ views on this. According to the negative view, following the European Council Summit, the impossibility of ratifying and accepting the Lisbon Treaty, coupled with the financial crisis and the challenges concerning energy and sustainable development, led to the shelving of the enlargement project and that the priority of the EU in the coming period is not enlargement. The results of the European Council meeting concerning enlargement are thus found to be grave. The EU is thought to have the tendency to keep new countries away until these problems are solved, and if the problems reach a reasonable solution, there would, in turn, be no need for new member states.[6] It is emphasised that the European Council Summit of June 2009, will decide whether the EU will take time off from enlargement or not.[7] Another widely held view is that EU-Turkey relations will either speed up or reach a deadlock after the upcoming local elections in March 2009.[8]
The positive view, including the ruling AKP[9] government, argues that globalisation waves, despite the current crisis, will weaken the protectionist, closed, and ‘anti-Turkish-membership’ sections within the EU. Accordingly, the Lisbon Treaty will facilitate the functioning of an enlarged EU by bringing majority voting instead of unanimity. These developments will create an opportunity for Turkey in the coming period.[10] It is argued that the EU will not be able to continue with its enlargement project unless it resolves its problems and conducts its internal reforms, and thus, the French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s success in convincing Ireland to hold another referendum is regarded as a positive development in removing the barriers Turkey is facing.[11]
On the other hand, it is generally believed that Turkey’s accession process has slowed down in the light of the fatigue and problems on both sides, and that it does not proceed smoothly and at the necessary pace, opening only two chapters at each EU-presidency. 2009 is expected to be a significant year in this regard due to: the upcoming local elections in Turkey, the report on Cyprus expected from the European Commission by the end of the year, as well as the change of the European Parliament and Commission.[12] It is generally believed that the European Commission is the safeguard of candidate countries, and underlined that the members of the Commission are of utmost significance for Turkey’s accession process. Today’s Commission, with its Commissioners who know Turkey very well such as Olli Rehn, José Manuel Barroso and Günther Verheugen, is found to be supportive of Turkey’s membership bid; and therefore, the formation of a new Commission expected in the second half of 2009 is thought to entail question marks as to the possibility of including members opposing the Turkish accession process. The elections of the European Parliament are also expected to imply a tension on EU-Turkey relations if MEPs use anti-Turkish feelings as a way to gain voters’ support.[13] It is expected that right-wing parties will gain significant ground in 2009 elections of the European Parliament.[14] The upcoming period is expected to be marked by domestic political pressures and populist approaches; to be a period when the European public will put Turkey under examination, a period when the weight of both the European and the Turkish publics will be felt more in EU-Turkey relations.[15]

[1] E. Yıldızoğlu: ‘Avrupa Birliği’nin Kritik Krizi’, Cumhuriyet, 17 December 2008.

[2] Evrensel, 13 December 2008.

[3] Radikal, 13 December 2008.

[4] B. Dedeoğlu: ‘AB İçin Zor, Türkiye İçin Çok Zor Dönem’, Agos, 19 December 2008.

[5] Dünya: ‘Çekler AB’yi “aşağılık kompleksi” olmaksızın yönetecek’, 29 December 2008; S. Kohen: ‘Çeklerden Türkiye’ye Destek’, Milliyet, 24 December 2008; Radikal: ‘Yeni dönem başkanı AB’ye Karşı Kılıcı Çekti’, 26 November 2008.

[6] B. Dedeoğlu: ‘AB İçin Zor, Türkiye İçin Çok Zor Dönem’, Agos, 19 December 2008.

[7] Cumhuriyet, 14 December 2008; Sabah, 13 December 2008.

[8] M. A. Birand: ‘Avrupa AKP’ye sempatisini kaybediyor’, Hürriyet, 4 December 2008.

[9] Adalet ve Kalkınma Partisi – Justice and Development Party.

[10] H. Özdalga: ‘AB Müzakereleri için En İyi Seçenek’, Zaman, 19 December 2008.

[11] Radikal, 5 January 2009.

[12] M. A. Birand: ‘2009: İlişkilerde dönüm noktası’, Hürriyet, 11 November 2008; Hürriyet: ‘AB sürecinde vites değişikliği şart’, 4 January 2009.

[13] M. A. Birand: ‘2009: İlişkilerde dönüm noktası’, Hürriyet, 11 November 2008.

[14], 16 December 2008, available at: (last access: 5 January 2009).

[15] F. Tınç: ‘Komisyon ziyaretten neden memnun kaldı?’, Hürriyet, 23 January 2009.