Turkey’s Troubled EU Accession: In Limbo Either Way

by Elbay Alibayov | Global Politics Illustrated

Most recent: the official plot

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu attended the informal meeting of Foreign Ministers of European Union members and candidate countries held in Valetta, Malta, on 28 April 2017. He met with the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini, among others. Turkey-EU relations (especially the prospects of the former’s EU membership aspiration) were discussed, according to released information. It was announced afterwards that, despite the recent (Turkish referendum related) rhetoric of politicians, the EU kept the door to the European Union for Turkey ajar and “the accession process continues, it is not suspended, nor ended .”

A snapshot


MC: “Are you serious?”

FM: “I’m telling you. Door is still open.”

MC: “After all you in the EU have said?”

FM: “Even after all you in Turkey have done.”

Scratching beneath the surface

Neither believed the other side. Both knew that the “open door” was merely mirage: Europeans had no appetite for bringing seventy-nine-million-strong Muslim Turkey in, while the Turks had no intention of submitting on issues they valued as critical. But it served both well to pretend that everything was for real: For Europe, the mirage had to stay on the horizon, in order to use it as bargaining chip and (as they thought) to contain its otherwise edgy and ambitious neighbour through the accession’s conditionality; Turks, in turn, played the game in order to get more concessions from the EU on various issues (from trade to migration and security) of common interest. Moreover, both were aware that the other side knew their game, but still kept playing.

Limbo it is

There are two meanings of limbo. One stands for “an uncertain period of awaiting a decision or resolution; an intermediate state or condition.” It is exactly what Turkey’s EU accession story is about (just compare: both Croatia and Turkey opened the accession talks with the EU in October, 2005; Croatia joined in 2013, while Turkey is nowhere near).

Interestingly, this intriguing story qualifies for another, original in fact (from some Christian beliefs), meaning of limbo—that is “the supposed abode of the souls of unbaptized infants, and of the just who died before Christ’s coming.”

So, whichever way you look at it, Turkey is in limbo… special kind of it, where neither/nor situation may last forever and keep everyone satisfied (contrary to original meaning where those in limbo are supposed to suffer). So are the circumstances. And it seems that both sides have adjusted to them and try to smartly make the best of it: Europe won’t let Turkey in as a member state, although cannot afford losing it as a partner; Turkey realises that full-blown membership (in supposedly “heaven” of the European Union) is not going to materialise, but it is better to stay at least in the candidate status endlessly (with some access to the table) rather than to go solo (or through “hell” if you wish) all along . Happy limbo it is.


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