Turkey resumed talks to join the European Union on Tuesday after a three-year hiatus, but hopes that the resumption will herald a spate of governance-improving reforms may prove elusive.
“There is no clear perspective for Turkey becoming a member,” says Cengiz Aktar, professor for EU relations at Istanbul’s Bahcesehir University.
This means Ankara is unlikely to embark on the same kind of far-reaching reforms it enacted in the earlier days of its membership negotiation process, which started in 2005.
It was the election of French President François Hollande in May that heralded the start of the current revival of Turkey’s stagnant EU bid.
He lifted a French veto imposed by his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy on several negotiating “chapters” – required reforms covering various areas of governance.
However the EU’s anger at Ankara’s harsh crackdown on antigovernment protests in late May and early June caused it to delay opening a new chapter until this week.
In the past two years Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been accused of losing the reformist zeal of his early years and sliding into authoritarianism as he grew more comfortable in power.
Turkish leaders have grown more truculent towards the EU, reacting angrily and dismissively towards the Commission’s increasingly negative annual progress reports.
“They used the stick and now it’s time for the carrot,” says Mr. Aktar of the latest resumption of talks.
So far, Ankara has opened 13 of the 35 chapters, and closed just one. It remains vetoed from opening several others by France and Cyprus.
This week another chapter was opened, relating to how member countries spend EU aid granted to impoverished areas.
A key stumbling block remains Turkey’s territorial dispute with Cyprus, but more than this, staunch German and French opposition to Turkey’s membership has led many in Ankara to believe that Turkey will never become a member, regardless of how many chapters it opens.
The only way to reinvigorate the talks is to set a target date for membership, perhaps 2023, Turkey’s centenary, Aktar suggests.
Nonetheless, the idea of severing a process that has helped buoy investor confidence in Turkey and is popular among the country’s powerful business lobby is unlikely.
That being the case, Turkey may remain perpetually on Europe’s doorstep: neither in nor out.