TURKEY’s accession talks with the European Union (EU) started in October 2005, were partly suspended in December 2006 and slowed to a halt four years later.
The receding prospect of EU membership has served the short-term interests of certain political leaders in Ankara and Western European capitals. But in the long run it will benefit neither Turkey nor the EU. Each side should treat next year as an opportunity to rebuild a relationship important for the prosperity and security of Europe and its neighbourhood.
This will mean going beyond the so-called "positive agenda", which the European Commission launched last May in an effort to restore momentum to EU-Turkish relations. A more ambitious approach will require Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey’s prime minister, and the leaders of EU powers such as France and Germany to commit themselves to practical steps that will expand the present relationship and deliver real benefits. This must not involve freezing, let alone abandoning, the accession talks. It will demonstrate that, whatever the disagreements about the goal of these talks, there is top-level political support for maximising the potential of EU-Turkish ties.
From the EU’s perspective, closer foreign policy co-operation is desirable given Turkey’s status as a model of democratic modernisation for political reformers in north Africa and the Middle East. For Turkey, tense relations with Iran, Iraq’s central government, Israel and Syria should remind Mr Erdogan and others of the EU’s value as a friendly neighbour.
Turkey’s sheer size, geographical location, imperial history and recent spectacular economic growth give it a weight and world outlook that may be too big ever to fit into the framework of EU membership. But the door should remain open.
London, December 27.