The EU at a turning point

1. How does the future of the EU after the Irish ‘No’ look like?


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]

2. Transatlantic relations renewed after President Bush: top priorities


Obama’s agenda closely watched

The presidential election on 4 November 2008 was watched carefully all over the world. New US President, Barack Obama, has been one of the strong opponents of the neo-conservatives and their hawkish methods in the conduct of foreign policy. In this sense, his election strengthened the hopes for a change in the United States’ unilateral approach to world politics as well as the re-vitalization of transatlantic relationships. During the Bush Presidency, the EU-US relations became estranged as a result of disagreements over issues ranging from the Iraq War to the Kyoto Treaty. On the other hand, the foreign policy openings of Barak Obama, though not yet clearly launched, are signalling revitalisation and the multilateralism both in foreign policy and economy. In Turkey, these entire developments assessed cautiously to deduce some conclusions from the effects of the revitalised transatlantic relations.

In Turkey, the Obama administration’s inclinations for dialogue and effective cooperation with the EU came into prominence. In this regard, the assessments gave the first priority to the prospective of intensified cooperation in the transatlantic relations. Secondly, it was underlined that the current economic crisis in the world economy, the results of the US invasion of Iraq, the deadlock in the isolationist policies towards Iran, the staggering war on terrorism in Afghanistan, have urged the new US administration to pursue multilateral foreign policy and for the cooperation with the EU.[16] In this regard, the assessments gave the first priority to the prospective of intensified cooperation in transatlantic relations. The crisis in the world economy and the emerging collective approach between the new US administration and the EU in struggling with the adverse effects of the crisis, constituted the second issue in Turkey. In the face of worsening and the spread of the economic crisis, both sides of the transatlantic worked in a harmonious manner.[17]

In Turkey, it was highlighted that over the expectations for an immediate change in the transatlantic relations, would result in disappointments. It is obvious that although the foreign policy agenda of Obama aimed at revitalisation of transatlantic relations, the economic and social crisis in the USA will take the priority over foreign policy issues.

3. Financial crisis and challenges of global governance: the EU response


Turkish context; reflections from the government, business and trade unions

Starting as a credit crunch in the US sub-prime mortgage market, the economic crisis soon became a global phenomenon. Not only financial institutions, but also real sector corporations have been severely influenced by this crisis. What is more, global economic governance is now under serious scrutiny for the lack of transparency, regulation and co-ordination. Economists like Joseph E. Stiglitz, point out the need for “more global and more robust oversight” that would prevent excessive risk taking, myopic behavior in financial markets, bad accounting and lack of transparency.[18] The hegemony of the USA in the world financial system has been challenged with the recent financial crisis so that the bipolar structure of the world system has reached its turning point.[19] At this juncture, there emerged a search for a new ‘Bretton Woods’. The European leaders aimed to lay down guidelines for co-ordinated action which was named by the President of France, Nicolas Sarkozy, as “the birth of a ‘European economic government’”.[20]

Existing within the global web of social and economic interconnectedness and in the economic hinterland of the EU, Turkey has deeply felt the effects of the financial crisis at a large scale, but at a later time compared to the member states of the EU. Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, previously argued that the effect of the crisis was not very profound but psychologically exaggerated.[21] President Abdullah Gül, warned about the potential harmful effects of the crisis, indicated the importance of both national and international solidarity and called for a coordinated action of all the parties such as business and trade unions.[22] The Minister of State, Kürşat Tüzmen, stating the expectation of reduction in the exports of Turkey to the EU, encouraged Turkish exporters to seek for new markets such as the Middle East, Asia, Africa and declared provision of fresh credit opportunities.[23]

The Turkish business circles criticized the government for not being able to anticipate the financial crisis in advance. On the business side, such as “Turkish Industrialists’ and Businessmen’s Association” (TÜSİAD), “The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey” (TOBB), are highly supportive of Turkey’s accession to the EU and share the same opinion that the encouraging developments in Turkey’s EU accession process will have positive reflections for both sides in the disheartening atmosphere of the financial crisis.[24] Bahadır Kaleağası, TÜSİAD representative in Brussels, indicated that the financial crisis may create an opportunity for Turkey on the path to become a member state of the EU, should the EU overcome the crisis as a global actor with a global vision considering enlargement as one of the means of eliminating the anxieties in global competitiveness. He continued that Turkey ought to accelerate the political and economic reform process as these reforms are in line with the measures taken for the prevention of the financial crisis.[25] Likewise, Rıfat Hisarcıklıoğlu, the president of TOBB, declared that just as the crisis of 2001 provided an opportunity to accomplish structural reforms, the current crisis could be a chance to speed up the reform process. In this respect, accelerating Turkey’s accession to the EU could provide a significant anchor.[26]

The labour unions and trade associations hold a rather different position regarding Turkey-EU relations. Indeed, some trade unions such as the “Confederation of Progressive Trade Unions of Turkey” (DISK), and “Confederation of Public Employees’ Trade Unions” (KESK), declared a programme titled “Social Solidarity and Democratisation” in which protectionist policies are proposed. To be more concrete, they recommended the suspension of customs union and called for limitations to the export of capital.[27]




[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.
[16] Özgür Gazete, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009); Amerika’nın Sesi, Türkish, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009); Millet Haber: ‘AB Yeni Başkandan Çok Şey Bekliyor’, 5 November 2008, available at:; NTV-MSNBC VE AJANSLAR, available at AB_Yeni_Baskandan_Cok_Sey_Bekliyor_haberi.html (last access: 25 January 2009); Cumhuriyet Strateji: ‘Obama’nın olası politikaları’, 15 December 2008, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009); Cumhuriyet Gazetesi, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009); Referans Gazetesi, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[17] See: – 5k (last access: 25 January 2009); ansesNet Haber Ajansı, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009); Cumhuriyet gazetesi, available at: (last access: 25 January 2009).
[18] J. E. Stiglitz: ‘Markets Can’t Rule Themselves’, in: Newsweek Special Edition: Issues 2009, 31 December 2008.
[19] Sabah: ‘AB Zirvesi Ekonomik Kriz Gündemi ile Başladı’, 15 October 2008.
[20] The ‘The European Summit, Seeking an End to the Madness’, 16 October 2008.
[21] Hurriyet: ‘Erdoğan’ın kriz sözlüğüne şimdi de “psikolojik” girdi’, 25 December 2008.
[22] Nethaber: ‘Cumhurbaşkanı Gül: ‘Uzaklardan gelen büyük dalgalar Türkiye gemisini de sallamaya başladı’, 19 December 2008.
[23] Radikal: ‘İnişe geçen krizden notlar’, 3 December 2008.
[24] Milliyet: ‘Hisarcıklıoğlu “Türkiye-AB katılım müzakerelerinin yavaşlığı endişe verici”’, 14 January 2009.
[25] EU-Turkey News Network: ‘Kaleagasi: Kriz Turkiye icin AB firsati olabilir’, 17 December 2008.
[26] The Union of Chambers and Commodity Exchanges of Turkey: ‘Reform Sürecimizi Devam Ettirmemizin Gerekli Olduğunu Her Fırsatta Vurguluyoruz’, 15 December 2008.
[27] Evrensel: ‘Krize karşı program önerisi’, 29 October 2008.