09/24/2013 08:08 pm ET Updated Nov 24, 2013

Knock, Knock, Knocking on the Union's Door, for Half a Century

While Turkey was knocking on the European Union's door for half a century, the world and so the EU has changed dramatically. The Cold War ended, iron curtain collapsed and many newcomers like even Bulgaria and Romania enjoyed the full membership to the EU. Turkey is still waiting on the door.

Turkey's European Union (EU) bid started exactly 50 years ago when Turkey and the European Economic Community (EEC) signed the Ankara Agreement on September 12, 1963. From then on the world, Europe and Turkey has drastically changed. But still this agreement constitutes the legal basis of the association between Turkey and the EU.

Following the turbulent years of the '80s and '90s under the military influence suppressing political environment, current Turkish government came to power with landslide elections in 2002, which posed an unexpected challenge for the EU. Conservative Justice and Development Party (AK) once paid so much attention to Turkey's long-ignored democratization and the EU accession process. It has established a separate ministry whose only task is to deal with EU affairs and the parliament has passed many laws so as to stick to EU reforms. Turkey's strong and fast-moving government expected rapid responses from the EU as it passed quick reform packages from the parliament. On the other hand the EU, who learnt to negotiate instead of fight, was as slow as a snail. Even a single issue is long discussed in many separate rounds of talks before it is brought to a council or a commission. Apart from its lumbering red tape and technical provisions, the EU was reluctant to open new chapters only due to political reasons. Turkey was blocked by France and Germany, the two main powers of the union and Cyprus, the bankrupt member which caused bloc to break up in given financial aids to members in need.

After Half a Century Which EU Is Turkey Heading To?

While Turkey was knocking on the union's door for 50 years, the world and so the Europe has changed dramatically. The European Coal and Steel Community of 1951 turned into the EEC with Customs Union in 1958 and by the Maastricht Treaty in 1992 the European Union emerged. Then it invented a Eurozone with even closer financial ties and more liabilities. Meanwhile in the world, the Cold War ended, iron curtain collapsed and many newcomers like even Bulgaria and Romania enjoyed the full membership to the EU. Turkey is still keeping on waiting in the queue. And today the trade and tariffs regime between the EU and the U.S. is changing and a new agreement lowering or eliminating tariffs is under way. And unfortunately Turkey seems to be again excluded in this game changer agreement.

Recent economic crisis and the financial situation in Greece, Cyprus, Spain, Portugal and even in Italy brought the Union on the brink of collapse. A two-tier EU with 17 Eurozone countries driving decision-making and other 11 non-Eurozone member countries obeying did not work. Now the EU is readying to take a critical decision to either liberalize the accession criteria and become a greater but loose union, or tighten the standards to Eurozone norms and shrink with excluding even some current members.

Both options seem like an end to integrated Europe project. So what's the best thing for Turkey to do now? Regardless of what shape the EU will take in the future, Turkey needs to further its reforms to keep up with the EU criteria.

The Journey Is More Important Than the Destination

The EU accession process, which would help Turkey's democratization, is much more important than being a full member. During this journey Turkey will gain too much; establishing a fair legal system, promoting rule of law, encouraging freedoms, reengineering bureaucracy, endorsing transparency, improving local administrations, reconstructing infrastructure and improving financial institutions are all important outcomes of this process. Turkey may not want to give up a chunk of its sovereignty at the end and opt-out from being a member country, but will definitely become a more prosperous land. As for the EU, it should better focus on to solve its own problems instead of creating obstacles for Turkey's accession bid. The EU must encourage Turkey to work more to become part of the Europe. Public support in Turkey for the EU membership is decreasing dramatically. A new German Marshall Fund report shows the support has fallen down to 44 percent this year from 73 percent in 2004. The EU must show a light at the end of the tunnel and open some new blocked chapters otherwise Turkey will be completely lost.

The Institut du Bosphore, a Paris based think tank of high-level Turkish and French personalities including politicians, businessmen and intellectuals, pointed out this threat in its 5th Annual Seminar last week in Istanbul. As Kemal Derviş, Co-President of the Scientific Committee of the Institut du Bosphore, said in his speech, Europe will be stronger by including Turkey. Unless we prefer a world ruled by the US and China, a strong Europe is for the advantage of everyone, Derviş said.

The UK Case Is Applicable For Turkey

There are of course obstacles for Turkey's accession. Though its economy is fostering even during the crisis, Turkey is still not ready for the Eurozone. Similarly as if Turkey becomes a member of the Schengen area, European soil would reach to the volatile Middle East. Being part of the Schengen area requires too much change in Turkey's border regime and Turkey is not bureaucratically ready for that.

But also there are formulas for Turkey's accession, if there's political will. The UK opted-out from the Eurozone and the passport-free Schengen zone, but it is still at the core of the continental club. As Kemal Derviş suggested, the UK case seems applicable for Turkey. Granted the residence and work permit for the Turkish nationals without visa requirement, it can be a member country without taking part in Eurozone and Schengen zone.