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Turkey

Turkey-EU: 'Lapse in interest on both sides'

EU accession talks started in 2005, but negotiations have stalled. The EU is unhappy with several human rights and reform issues, but Fadi Hakura from Chatham House thinks neither side is that keen on membership anyway.

DW: The handling of the protests in Gezi Park last year, a major corruption probe and, most recently, widely criticized new Internet regulation that is incompatible with EU standards. Is the EU weary of Turkey?

Fadi Hakura: None of the European countries want to push Turkey's accession and neither is Turkey that interested in joining the EU. So, what we have is a process in a comatose state, where both sides pretend that they want accession.

At a recent visit to Berlin, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan got a rather cool reception from German Chancellor Angela Merkel, what role does Germany play in the process?

Germany is the most important country in terms of Turkey's prospects of joining the EU. Without solid German support Turkey will be unable, even under the best of circumstances, to accede to the EU.

Fadi Hakura

Fadi Hakura heads the Turkey project at Chatham House

But many in Germany are opposed to Turkish membership, the two big parties in the Grand Coalition have differing views. What exactly is Germany's policy?

It's to allow the process to continue, to encourage Turkey to adopt political, economic and social reforms, but at the same time stressing that it's an open-ended process where the final destination of accession is not guaranteed.

Turkey's accession process really began to falter after the departure of former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and then-Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer. They were the key architects and promoters of EU membership. Since then, the process has faltered, Turkey's reform program became more sluggish, and what we see is the net result of the lapse in interest on both sides.

What is the alternative for Turkey?

The alternative is that Turkey will continue to enjoy a customs union with the EU, but beyond economic and trade relations and its NATO membership, Turkey will have to forge its own way, on foreign policy, on economic reform and political change.

Are reforms likely under the current government?

Politicians in Turkey currently don't seem to have the necessary drive or incentive to reignite Turkey's reform momentum. The main concern now seems to be to consolidate power, not promote reform.

But wouldn't joining the EU speed up reforms?

Ironically, the decline of Turkey's EU membership [bid] may provide impetus for Turkey to gain ownership of the critical reforms it needs to undertake - rather than have those reforms foisted on it by the EU.

We've seen, for example, that there has been backsliding on reforms in Hungary as soon as it gained EU membership. Similarly, had Turkey gained membership, there would be a serious risk that that force would have declined.

What it [joining the EU] does not guarantee is that a country owns those reforms, internalizes those reforms so that it becomes part of its political culture and debate.

Those in favor of Turkish EU membership, like the UK, have argued that Turkey's economic potential is a crucial reason for granting accession. Do you agree?

This business and economic argument has begun to lose some of its relevance. In recent years, Turkey's growth rate has plummeted, Turkey has now entered what economists call a middle-income trap, which means that Turkey's growth is going forward at such low levels - of two to three percent rather than the average of 5.2 percent we saw in the last 10 years.

In effect, Turkey could face a long period of economic stagnation unless it adopts some major structural, political and economic reforms.

You travel to Turkey regularly, how do you see its political culture, what does the EU need to understand the mindset there?

The main challenge in Turkey is the political culture. It's very much a top-down society, where power is concentrated in the hands of a few. There is a very strong conservative instinct among the Turkish population and the fact that Turks tend to mistrust each other, which does not create the right environment for political, economic and social reform.

You say Erdogan's government's focus is on consolidating power. How does this affect his foreign policy in general, also given Turkey's geopolitical significance?

Prime Minister Erdogan and Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu had a very ambitious foreign policy that was unmatched by Turkey's economy and resources. To quote a wikileaked cable from the US embassy in Ankara of 2009 - it said that Turkey had Rolls-Royce ambitions but Rover resources.

Erdogan overestimated Turkey's influence and power in the region, he portrayed Turkey as an indispensable, leading player in the Middle East, rather than an important player.

What recent events in the region have shown, in Syria, or the removal of former Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, are the strict limits of Turkish influence in the region.

Fadi Hakura is head of the Turkey project at London think tank Chatham House. His focus is on Turkey and its political culture.

DW.DE