Turkey is looking forward to the EU's annual progress report on its reform credentials. The report is key for continued membership negotiations with a country that has grown quite tired of Europe.
2013 marked a low point in EU-Turkey relations. The violent police crackdown on protesters during the mass anti-government demonstrations at Istanbul's Gezi Park in particular irritated the EU. In fact, Brussels had scheduled talks on "Regional Policy and Coordination of Structural Instruments", chapter 22 of a list of EU regulations membership candidates must fulfil, for June. But The Netherlands and Germany blocked the talks because of the way the Turkish government handled the protests.
Ankara's interpretation of press freedom is another sticking point. There are still reservations concerning this issue, Maurice Ripert says. The head of the EU's Turkey delegation expects the EU Commission's Progress Report, scheduled to be published on Wednesday (16.10.2013), will bring up government attempts at intimidation as well as the Turkish media's self-censorship. Where human rights are concerned, the French diplomat refers to a "mixed situation."
Criticism and praise come side by side. Last week, the EU welcomed Ankara's so-called "Democratization Package" and praised Erdogan's reforms. Among other measures, the package includes loosening a ban on wearing Islamic-style headscarves and more rights for minorities. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle rates both reform proposals as progress.
Turkey has been an official membership candidate since 2005. But interest in Europe appears to be waning in Turkey. According to a recent opinion poll, less than one out of two Turks is in favor of EU accession. In a similar study in 2004, three out of four people questioned endorsed membership. In 2013, one third of those polled expressly spoke out against membership, compared to just nine percent nine years ago.
Even politicians increasingly appear to be losing hope. Turkey's chief EU negotiator Egemen Bagis said last month his country would probably never join the EU. "In the long run, Turkey is more likely to negotiate special access to the EU market, like Norway. We will reach European standards and cooperate closely, but we will never be a member," Hürriyet newspaper quoted the EU Affairs Minister.
Economic experts take a different view. Muharrem Yilmaz, chairman of the Turkish Industry and Business Association (TÜSIAD), urges Turkey to intensify its efforts if the country wants economic growth, political stability and democratization. Former Economics Minister Kemal Dervis came to a similar conclusion in Hürriyet newspaper.
Experts back EU membership
"From an economic point of view, Turkey needs the EU," Mustafa Sönmez told DW. "Where foreign investments are concerned, it is important to be a member of the EU or an accession candidate," the economist and business journalist says, adding the mere fact that Ankara is striving for membership attracts investors.
The EU is the engine for the democratization process in the country, Senem Aydin says. "It has become clear, in particular over the past five years, that Turkish democracy would have suffered without the EU's influence," the political scientist told DW. She does not expect Erdogan's Democratization Package to improve ties with the EU. Aydin has identified a much more pressing issue: The political scientist does not expect progress in membership talks until the Cyprus problem is solved.