Once upon a time Turkey and Ukraine were defining the destiny of Europe. Now they have seemingly been sidelined. Both are knocking on the European Union’s door and both are being told, more or less, that they are not welcome.
Apparently they are too different to be part of Europe. While Turkey may be different in terms of religion and culture, it shares and desires the same values and goals as Europe (the values that the EU is built on and is supposed to stand for) and has been anchored and involved in Western institutions for years, such as the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
Ukraine is apparently “too Soviet,” or so I am told. Ukraine may be at the heart of Europe but it seems the mentality and the so-called “Soviet legacy” culture of its people are simply too different and incompatible.
> Ukraine Map
Or perhaps it’s simply because they are both too big. Just thinking of how many seats the two nations would have in the European Parliament is probably a very scary thought for some.
Ukraine and Turkey are different but in many ways they are similar.
> Turkey Map
Both are big and geo-strategically important and frequently used as positive examples in their neighborhood. Turkey is always cited as a beacon of democracy in the Muslim world, while Ukraine, in more recent times, has been used as an example for change and democracy in the EU’s eastern neighborhood. In short, models in turbulent and unstable regions.
Of course, as regards relations with the EU there is a big difference. Turkey managed, after decades of effort, to become a candidate country and is already negotiating membership. Ankara is therefore on the right side of the EU door – albeit in a room full of problems.
Ukraine, on the other hand, is still on the wrong side. No matter how much Kyiv rings the doorbell and knocks, the door stays closed. Through the letterbox the EU says get your house in order; carry out reforms – reforms that are actually not very different to those being carried out by countries already negotiating membership. After you have done this long, long list of things, the EU says, we might one day give you a membership perspective.
Ukraine is presently negotiating an association agreement with the EU that includes a deep and comprehensive free trade agreement. There were hopes that in the final stages of the negotiations the EU may – in light of the ongoing reform process in the country – be ready to add a membership perspective. However, EU sources tell me this is not going to happen. And so, Ukraine should stop talking about it.
It’s a tricky situation because without the goal of membership it becomes difficult to carry out increasingly sensitive reforms. Only increased engagement – which the EU is seemingly not ready to do – will keep the process of modernization and democracy alive in Ukraine.
Of course, there is also the Russia element. Of all the former states of the Soviet Union, Ukraine is the most precious to Moscow. While the Kremlin accepts Ukraine having closer ties with the EU and claims it does not want to control the country, they almost certainly would not be happy with Kyiv as an EU member. This fact also clearly contributes to the EU position on Ukraine.
Both Ankara and Ukraine also desire a free visa regime with the EU.
Ukraine received an action plan to this end and is now carrying out far-reaching reforms to meet EU requirements. However, even if it succeeds it will still require a political decision from the EU’s 27 members for paper to be turned into something real.
Turkey is working to finalize a readmission agreement with the EU – a precondition for a negotiating a visa-free regime. However, as with Ukraine there are a number of member states that are far from comfortable with the idea of offering this to populous Turkey.
Both countries are also moving towards a reciprocal lifting of visa requirements themselves. Turkey may do this quicker than Ukraine as Ukraine will probably not give final agreement until Turkey has finalized and implemented its readmission agreement with the EU.
These days, both nations are moving to build up economic and political ties. Earlier this month, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan visited Ukraine with a big delegation of Turkish businessmen eager to do business with their counterparts. It was a successful trip that ended with a joint declaration on the creation of a strategic high level council. They hope to build on this, quickly consolidating their relations both politically and economically.
Where this will eventually lead remains to be seen. However, one thing is for sure, and that is that both Turkey and Ukraine could be key for the future of Europe and for global developments. If they succeed in joining the EU, the union will become a stronger and more effective global power. Rather than viewing their being different negatively, the EU should see it positively.
Being different is a strength. As the EU slogan says, strength in diversity.
Amanda Paul is a policy analyst at the European Policy Center, a Brussels-based think tank. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. This article first appeared in Today’s Zaman on Jan. 30 and is reprinted with the permission of the author.