By DUYGU KANVER
Capital News Service
LANSING — Turks in Michigan say they’re not hopeful about the success of an initiative by the new government of Prime Minister Ahmet Davutoglu to accelerate negotiations to win European Union membership for Turkey.
In the second cabinet meeting after Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s election as president, “the focus and primary agenda was the European Union,” said Deputy Prime Minister Bulent Arinc.
Arinc outlined a three-step plan to begin this year as “a new but scheduled course of action” to be carried out within five years. The strategy aims at preparing Turkey for EU membership by 2019.
But the new government is “trying to cover up their failed Middle East policy” with the new EU initiative, said Timur Kocaoglu, an international relations professor and the associate director of the Center for European, Russian and Eurasian Studies at Michigan State University.
Kocaoglu said he did not think anybody would take the three-stage plan seriously.
Emine Evered, an MSU history professor, said, “Turkey’s image has been tarnished in Europe and this initiative is an effort to redeem it,” but she also said she doesn’t believe the effort will suffice.
“Turkey’s membership will not happen anytime soon,” Evered predicted.
Turkey’s application to what was then the European Community goes back to 1987. The country’s candidacy was officially recognized 12 years after the initial application and seven years after the founding of the new body called the EU. The EU initiated full membership negotiations with Turkey in late 2005, the third year the Justice and Development Party (AKP) was the ruling party.
Few major developments followed in the coming years, however. The AKP government’s biggest move was to establish the Ministry for European Union Affairs in 2011.
“Initially AKP seemed very enthusiastic to join the EU but it faded away,” said Evered.
Onur Kapucu, a mechanical engineer who lives in Saint Joseph, argued that is true not only for government officials but also for ordinary citizens.
“I believe many people lost their interest towards Turkey’s EU membership,” Kapucu said. “However, I cannot relate this loss of interest simply to the policies of the AKP.”
Turkish Michiganders agreed on two issues they said made citizens turn away from their old aspirations of EU membership: major economic problems in the EU and the admission members such as Malta, Romania, Bulgaria and Croatia, which Kapucu argued “did not satisfy the EU standards any better than Turkey.”
Burcin Tolu, an engineer at Whirlpool Corp. in Benton Harbor, said she didn’t foresee any positive developments for Turkey’s membership status despite the government’s new strategy.
“Since AKP came to power, Turkey started moving away from European values and getting closer and closer to ‘Islamic’ mindset,” she said.
According to Tolu, the Turkish state has been gradually deserting its democratic and secular values in the last decade, hurting the country’s image within the European community. Despite the changing face of the country, Tolu, like Kocaoglu and Kapucu, said she sees Turkey as primarily European rather than Middle Eastern.
Evered, whose research specialization is the Middle East, however, said it’s otherwise. “Turkey is a Middle Eastern country. Culturally, a majority of its population adhere to Middle Eastern traditions, especially religiously.
“However, Turkey is a very flexible Middle Eastern country that feels comfortable to change when necessary,” she added.
Tolu said that setting aside the European-Middle Eastern debate that has gone on for decades in Turkey, the country should focus on following the “far path of improvement” on social and economic levels. According to her, significant differences between the EU and Turkey have kept it from becoming an EU member so far.
For Kocaoglu, the barrier is restrictions on the rights of citizens and the opposition, while for Evered and Kapucu, the main issue is problems in democratic practices.
An announcement by the minister for EU affairs that the new EU strategy will mainly deal with political reform and socio-economic transformation seems to offer solutions to the concerns of Turkish Michiganders, but time will show whether the five-year plan works, said Kapucu.
But Tolu disagreed, saying, “This plan, just like any EU plans announced in the past years, won’t help earn us the full membership status.”