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Europe, Turkey and globalization

10/12/2014, Rome

Within the context of the Global Turkey in Europe project jointly run by the IAI, the IPC, and Stiftung Mercator, the Istituto Affari Internazionali organized a conference with Kemal Derviş, the former Turkish Minister of Economic Affairs, former Head of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) and the Vice President and Director of the Global Economy and Development program at Brookings Institution, to discuss the future of Europe’s institutional architecture and how Turkey fits into this process of self-reinvention.

After sharing his thoughts on the current situation of the EU and the crisis it faces today, Kemal Dervis began to focus on Turkey and how the country’s economy achieved the level of success it has enjoyed since the early 2000s. After a rather arduous journey through the latter half of the 1990s, Dervis advanced the view that several factors in the early 2000s ensured Turkey’s economy quickly becoming a success story of the past decade. These included far-reaching reforms within the areas of banking, agricultural policies, independent bank supervision, independent competition policies, privatization, and state-run enterprises. The economy’s growth rate between 2002 until 2007 shot up to nearly 7 percent. Turkey’s golden period changed foreign perceptions of the country, and a future within the EU seemed more likely. Support for EU-accession spread across all circles of the Turkish society, from the unions, businesses, the youth, the government and even the most religious groups: the GMF polls indicated that in 2004 74% of Turkish citizens were in favour of joining the EU as a full-member with a promising future for its economy.

With the onset of the Eurocrisis in 2009, however, this started to change: many Turkish analysts speculated about the potential collapse of the Union and started to rethink more critically about the benefits of integrating into this fabric that seemed to be falling apart. Relations with ‘Asian tigers’ were progressing fruitfully and the Turkish economy was expanding at an admirable growth rate – which led Turkey to put the plans for EU-membership in the backburner. On top of this, the Arab Springs transformed the Middle East, in the eyes of the administration, into a zone of opportunities. Derviş argued that at this point, Turkey became overconfident.

This hubris proved short-lived, however: Europe successfully withstood the crisis without any sign of collapse, and by contrast, the post-Arab Springs Middle East was increasingly perceived as a disaster area, forcing the policy-makers to abandon any thoughts of playing a larger role in the region. As the Turkish economy furthermore slowed down and the per-capita income stuck around $10,000, the excessive triumphalism that minimized the importance of a European relationship also started to fade away. These developments rendered the EU more appealing in the eyes of many, substantiated by the fact that, according to a September 2014 survey by the GMF, the support for accession/membership climbed up to 53%, after accession/membership support previously had fallen to 38%.

But then what is in store for the future of Turkey-EU relations? The EU needs a new structure for involvement to accommodate countries such as the Poland, Sweden and the UK that are not in the monetary union. Derviş asserted that something similar to the relationship between the UK and the EU could be envisioned for Turkey; through less sovereignty sharing, Turkey could become an insider within a more flexible structure. Dervis furthermore argued that the EU will have to face a growing minority of Muslims inside the EU, and therefore should be interested in a progression of a democratic and peaceful Muslim society. As Turkey is a key subscriber to this ambitious idea, the issue must be engaged by both sides. In this context, Dervis proposed a fruitful 2-3 day meeting on a senior level that may help both sides address a range of issues and stimulate a new process of reengaging Turkey with the EU.

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