Erdogan: Turkey Has Vigor the EU Needs Badly

At the end of this century’s first decade, we can observe how the locus of power has shifted in world politics. The G20 is replacing the G7 as the overseer of the global economy. The need to restructure the U.N. Security Council to be more representative of the international order is profoundly pressing. And emerging powers such as Brazil, India, Turkey, and others are playing very assertive roles in global economic affairs.

The European Union cannot be the one sphere that is immune to these changes in the balance of power. The financial crisis has laid bare Europe’s need for greater dynamism and change: European labor markets and social-security systems are comatose. European economies are stagnant. European societies are near geriatric. Can Europe retain power and credibility in the new world order without addressing these issues?

Meanwhile, as a candidate for EU membership, Turkey has been putting its imprint on the global stage with its impressive economic development and political stability. The Turkish economy is Europe’s fastest-growing sizable economy and will continue to be so in 2011. According to Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development forecasts, Turkey will be the second-largest economy in Europe by 2050. Turkey is a market where foreign direct investment can get emerging-market returns at a developed-market risk. Turkey is bursting with the vigor that the EU so badly needs.

And it’s not only economics. Turkey is becoming a global and regional player with its soft power. Turkey is rediscovering its neighborhood, one that had been overlooked for decades. It is following a proactive foreign policy stretching from the Balkans to the Middle East and the Caucasus. Turkey’s “zero-problem, limitless trade” policy with the countries of the wider region aims to create a haven of nondogmatic stability for all of us. We have visa-free travel with 61 countries. This is not a romantic neo-Ottomanism: It is realpolitik based on a new vision of the global order. And I believe that this vision will help the EU, too, in the next decade.

Our intense diplomatic efforts have yielded fruit in Iraq and Afghanistan, in the Balkans, and also in regard to the Iranian nuclear program. Turkey has been an active player in all the major areas of global politics and we do not intend to surrender this momentum. Once it becomes a member of the EU, Turkey will contribute to European interests in a wide range of issues, from foreign and economic policy to regional security and social harmony.

Even though the case for Turkey’s membership of the EU is self-evident and requires little explanation, the accession process has been facing resistance orchestrated by certain member states. Unfortunately, the negotiation process is not currently proceeding as it ought to. Eighteen out of 22 negotiation chapters pending for discussion are blocked on political grounds. This is turning into the sort of byzantine political intrigue that no candidate country has experienced previously. In this treatment, Turkey is unique.

Our European friends should realize that Turkey-EU relations are fast approaching a turning point. In the recent waves of enlargement, the EU smoothly welcomed relatively small countries and weak economies in order to boost their economic growth, consolidate their democracies, and provide them with shelter. Not letting them in would have meant leaving those countries at the mercy of political turmoil that might emerge in the region. No such consideration has ever been extended to Turkey. Unlike those states, Turkey is a regional player, an international actor with an expanding range of soft power and a resilient, sizable economy. And yet, the fact that it can withstand being rebuffed should not become reason for Turkey’s exclusion. Sometimes I wonder if Turkey’s power is an impediment to its accession to the Union. If so, one has to question Europe’s strategic calculations.

It’s been more than half a century since Turkey first knocked at Europe’s door. In the past, Turkey’s EU vocation was purely economic. The Turkey of today is different. We are no more a country that would wait at the EU’s door like a docile supplicant.

Some claim that Turkey has no real alternative to Europe. This argument might be fair enough when taking into account the level of economic integration between Turkey and the EU—and, in particular, the fact that a liberal and democratic Europe has always been an anchor for reform in Turkey. However, the opposite is just as valid. Europe has no real alternative to Turkey. Especially in a global order where the balance of power is shifting, the EU needs Turkey to become an ever stronger, richer, more inclusive, and more secure Union. I hope it will not be too late before our European friends discover this fact.

Erdogan is prime minister of Turkey.

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