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Opinion: Cooling ties or not, Turkey and the EU need each other

Recently, much has been made of the notion that EU accession is losing importance for Turkey. But this doesn't mean Ankara is turning its back on Europe, says Bahaeddin Guengoer of Deutsche Welle's Turkish service.

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Turkey can explain itself however it likes. But its latest diplomatic actions - its "no" to Iran sanctions in the UN Security Council; its goal of carrying out a zero-problem policy with all its neighbors - are being met in the West with anxious questions. Is Turkey turning away from the West? Does it see its future in the Islamic camp?

The answer to such questions is a definite "no." Turkey is not turning its back on the West! Yes, the goal of EU accession is losing priority in Ankara's current policy. Turkey is acting with a new level of self-confidence in the international diplomatic arena, and no one should resent the country for trying to build up its status as a regional power - or for trying to look beyond the narrow confines of Europe.

Turkey seeks new responsibility

Tacticians from Washington, Brazil and Brussels to Tehran, the Middle East and Moscow have been trying to instrumentalize NATO-member Turkey to serve their own diplomatic goals for nearly 60 years. Now, Turkey wants to take on more responsibility: in conflict regions like the Middle East and the Caucasus, as an arbitrator in atomic negotiations with Iran, and not least as a reliable energy route for the West.

Questioning whether Turkey belongs in the European or the Oriental camp is easy to understand - but its not justifiable. Since its founding nearly nine decades ago, the modern Turkish republic has decided in favor of Europe, and therefore, in favor of the West.

Despite this, Ankara can't look forward to being greeted with open arms in its efforts to join the European Union - nor does the Islamic world celebrate Turkey's western orientation. Its dialog with Hamas as an unspoken condition for a dialog with Iran, and its over-eager actions toward reprimanding Israel, have led to a great deal of resentment in Europe and the US - and at the same time, done serious damage to its relations with the Jewish state.

Two sides of a coin

Purely in terms of numbers, Turkey has what it takes to back up its ambitions of strength. The country has seen nearly 12 percent economic growth in the first quarter of the year, along with being the 16th-strongest economy in the world, and the 7th in Europe.

But that is just one side of the coin. On the other side is the growing polarization between the religious and the secular in a Turkey whose population has yet to taste many of the fruits of economic growth. The continuous lack of democratic process, the weak grasp of the concept of press freedom in a gray zone, or the unwillingness of Prime Minsiter Erdogan to deal with criticism of either himself or his policies, are all alarming threats to domestic stability.

Turkey belongs in Europe! Europe and Turkey need one another like never before. Turkey needs Europe in order to build itself up as a regional power and to give it more weight in its influence on its neighbors. For its part, without Turkey, Europe reduces its chances of succeeding in its global goals and strategies.

Europe's unified rejection of Turkey needs to give way. Instead of explaining why Turkey shouldn't accede to the EU, the heads of the European states should be racking their brains about how to make accession happen - or at least how to begin the process, since full membership is unlikely in the near future. Meanwhile, Turkey is right to intensively build up its status as a regional power, instead of trying at all cost to become a member of a weaker, crisis-plagued EU.

Author: Bahaeddin Guengoer (jen)
Editor: Rob Mudge

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