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.