11/17/2009 11:03 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Who's Losing Turkey?

There is a heated debate within media and academic circles as to whether Turkey is leaving the West and forging closer ties with countries such as Russia and Iran. In order to understand the issue better, one has to understand the deep frustration of Turkish people with the E.U. and that the E.U. is losing Turkey, if not the West.
Half a century later after its first application, Turkey is still waiting to be let in and 21 other countries have since joined the Union, expanding the club to 27 today.
Since a major E.U. review of Turkey's accession process is approaching this December, we are passing through yet another trial and see no enthusiasm from E.U. members. On the Turkish side support for full membership is still strong among opinion leaders if not among the public in the country, but perpetual frustrations are draining patience. Unless the E.U. can accelerate the negotiation timetable and show some visionary leadership, the West might really risk losing Turkey sooner than expected.
In four years of actual accession talks, which started after the E.U.'s unanimous decision in 2005, Turkey has opened only 11 of 35 policy chapters of the "Acquis Communautaire," the total body of E.U. law varying from energy to agriculture, from competition to public procurement need to be negotiated, successfully closing just one, on science and research. In order to be acceded, all the chapters must be opened.
But they cannot be! The real reason behind this awkward situation is not Cyprus issue, as many would argue, but something else: Before almost every general and Parliamentary elections, certain European politicians are capitalizing on unsubstantiated domestic fears (immigration, worries about jobs, fears of Islam and a general dissatisfaction with the E.U.) on the possibility of Turkey's membership in the E.U.
For the first time in centuries there is an opportunity to bring the cultural and religious diversity together and to unite Europe around shared ideals and common goals. Turkey, as the only secular democracy (yes, despite of all its' deficiencies) with a Muslim majority, has the chance to disproven the theory of a 'clash of civilizations'. E.U. itself admits this fact. On October14, the European Commission released the "2009 Progress Report" and the "Enlargement Strategy Paper" in which it assessed that Turkey plays a key role in enhancing dialogue among civilizations.
Turkey demonstrates that the Islam and democracy can co-exist and that culture and religion do not obstruct development and democracy. Turkey put into practice her most important contribution as a "soft power" with the message she delivers by her existence and experience as a democracy to 1.5 billion Muslims around the world.
Muslim nations and Europe's own Muslim minorities are consequently closely watching Turkey's process in Europe. This is also a litmus case for them whether they will have a future with the E.U.
Negative statements and actions by E.U. leaders have played a key role in discouraging Turkey. Popular support in Turkey for E.U. membership continues to wane. Approval of the idea of membership fell from over 70% in 2004 to 42% by the end of last year. The skepticism over Turkey's membership could only be overcome if the pro-Turkey E.U. leaders become more vocal and re-embrace Turkey. At least member states should honor the decision to continue accession talks (not in snail pace as it is now); if nothing else, it is a matter of credibility for the Union.
Turkey's recent activism in the Middle East is widely misread as a departure from the West. It is certainly encouraged by the frustrations with the E.U. From that vantage point, it is healthier to interpret the dramatically deepened and broadened economic and energy relations between Turkey, Iran and Russia in recent weeks and months as Turkey's another way of saying "I am here, important and relevant for your policies more than you think!"
The interests of Turkey and the E.U. overlap in a vast geography and across many areas.
On issues as diverse as global economic crisis, climate change, energy, Iran, Iraq, the Middle East, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Georgia, Kosovo and others, Turkey's efforts are directed at facilitating dialogue and compromise.
The E.U.'s own initiatives like the Union for the Mediterranean, the Black Sea Synergy and Eastern Partnership stand a much better chance of success with Turkey on board.
Turkey's E.U. membership is also about declaring that tolerance is replacing prejudice. It is about Europe being a timeless and inspirational idea that unites a continent, not artificially divides it by religion or ethnicity.
Time and patience are running out for those supporting Turkey's accession, as European leaders create one arbitrary obstacle one after another. Turkish people now come to the point of belief that no matter what Turkey does to overcome the longstanding problem of Cyprus and other issues, E.U. will create a new one for them. Without having clear vision for the future it is getting politically and economically harder for Turkey to walk the long journey. "Let's talk turkey," people say to get down to baseline truths. Let's talk Turkey, yes - but also act and soon.