, by Dr. Arshi Khan
Turkey is the only Muslim country which is the member of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and of many other Western regional groupings. Turkish forces have earned credentials in helping Europe against the menace of Soviet expansionism and other security threats. Europe looks at Turkey rather than Russia as a promising country for ensuring energy security with a wide network of petroleum and gas pipelines passing through Turkey. In addition to its commitment in Afghanistan, it is emerging as a credible bridge between the Christian Europe and the Muslim East.
As the world’s 16th largest economy, it ranks sixth largest economy of Europe with industrial goods amounting to over 90% of its exports. Looking at these potentials, Turkey is in its advance stage in becoming the member of the European fraternity. The recent historic Turkish Referendum with 78% turnout held on September 12 on the country’s constitutional reforms of 26 Articles with 58% ‘yes’ votes has sent a strong and unambiguous message to the world that Turkey is in its dialectical advance towards seeking the full membership of the European Union.
The referendum is basically the national approval of the constitutional steps taken in the direction of improving the political, legal, cultural and institutional aspects of the country. Exercise of this political expediency is mainly directed at harmonising Turkish polity and its legislations with the updated standards of the EU. Different institutions of the EU have welcomed this move towards a positive direction. The US has also appreciated it as sincere step towards advance democracy.
As a part of the continuous constitutional measures taken by Turkey after the Helsinki Summit of 1999 declaring Turkey as a candidate to join the EU by fulfilling certain criteria, the referendum has finally signalled its paradigm shift from a limited to advance democracy by rejecting the classical tutelage of the army, constitutional court and the Constitution of 1982.
It is in this context, constitutional engagements of the Turkish leadership under the ruling Justice and Development Party (AK Partisi) seems to be inevitable process for economic improvements through political stability and European compatibility. Over the last 50 years, the average life-span of the national government has been only 15 months which affected Turkish economic growth.
Since its inception as the Republic in 1923, Turkey experienced three decades of one party (Cumhuriyet Halk Partisi) domination which strengthened the roots of political interference by Turkish army in civilian government. Its shift to multi-party after the 1950 elections experimented with the military take-over in 1960, 1971 and 1980 resulting in throwing out four elected governments and closure of political parties for 40 times. This culminated into the tightening of the civilian government in its autonomous spheres of action in which the overarching domination of the army and its sponsored judiciary had restricted the democratisation processes required for integration with the EU.
Moreover, Turkish role in the Northern Cyprus as a Guarantor power and its deployment of protection forces since 1974, its bitter relations with Armenia and ‘no concession’ attitude to the rights of the Kurdish people had disappointed the EU lawmakers for long. This status-quo began to change after the pro-reforms AK party came to power in 2002 and again in 2007. Although it was labeled as Islamist but so far it has proved to be the European counterparts of the Christian Democrats. It was voted to power on its promises for economic and political reforms and modernization which it really fulfilled by making Turkey more acceptable to the Turkish people and the EU by overcoming severe economic crisis and more freedoms.
Since its economic slump in 2001, Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan’s economic reforms are more than that of 70 years. Turkey’s national output stands at $ 1 trillion for the first time. Its total exports and imports last year were $102.2 and 140.8 billion respectively. The FDI stock reached $ 205 billion. Turkey is a Developed Country. Merrill Lynch, World Bank and the Economist magazine have described it as ‘emerging market economy’. To the World Bank, Turkey is an upper middle income country. Forbes mentions that Istanbul—financial capital of Turkey has 28 billionaires as of the last March and they were 35 in number in March 2008, ranking fourth in the world. Turkeys’s Vestel and BEKO account for over half of all TV sets manufactured in Europe. It ranks sixth largest automotive producers, above Italy, in Europe (2008) and fourth leading ship-building nation in the world (2007) after South Korea, China and Japan. It is ranked world’s third largest construction contract industry after the US and China.
Just five days after the referendum, Turkey’s power grid was officially connected to the EU Energy System through Bulgarian and Greek grids. 1.2 million Turks work abroad. There are about 3 million Turks in Germany. Turkey has emerged as one of the largest sources of FDI in Central and Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth of Independent Countries. Turkish companies have sizable FDI stocks in Russia, Black Sea neighbours, Bulgaria, Romania and Poland. It targets total trade to reach at least $450 billion by 2013. Turkey possesses 11 out of world’s 100 best hotels and earns yearly over $20 billion from the tourist.
In his July visit to Turkey, David Cameron predicted Turkey to outstrip Canada, Spain and Italy by 2025. Top trading partners of Turkey are Germany, France, Italy and Spain and top non-European partners – Russia, China, UAE, USA and Iran. Over 50% of Turkish trade is made with the EU and it is also the part of the EU Customs Union since January 1996. In addition, it signed Free Trade Agreement with Israel, Morocco, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Tunisia, Palestinian Authority, Syria, Egypt, Georgia and Albania. Turkey is also a member of the Euro-Mediterranean Partnership community.
The Governor of the Turkish Central Bank Durmush Yilmaz said on 20 September 2010 that said recent economic data indicate the impact of the global financial crisis has completely faded away in Turkey. According to Turkish Statistics Institute (TurkStat) figures, gross domestic product (GDP) grew by 11.7 percent and 10.3 percent in the first and second quarter of this year, respectively. With its 10.3 percent growth in the second quarter of this year, Turkey became the fastest growing economy in the G-20 with China, and the third-fastest growing economy in the world after Singapore and Thailand for that period.
Such achievements of Turkey reflects prudence on the part of the political leadership which is engaged in the levelling process between the EU and Turkish standards for giving no chance for denying its full EU membership. Since its association with the EEC in 1963, it has been in the race for fulfilling the set criteria of the EU. First of all, it succeeded in its integration with the Customs Union by 1996 and now it is in the second final round after 1999 and more after the Brussels Summit, 2004 for starting the Accession Negotiations with Turkey over 35 ‘policy areas’.
Since 2002, Turkey has changed in expanding the frame of freedom of expression, press, freedom of civilian authorities, accountable army, independent judiciary, rights for minorities, workers and citizens. Turkey has already improved relations with Armenia, Greece and others and it is willing to address the problems of the Kurdish community. It is now looking forward to European reciprocity for getting accommodated as a full member of the EU. This new institutional culture and the impressive transformation process have broadened the scope for the Turkish citizens and the leaders to be responsive to contemporary challenges in this volatile Hobbesian world.
[The writer is Associate Professor, Department of Political Science, Aligarh Muslim University, Aligarh, India]