Eurasian customs union a far-fetched dream for Turkey, say analysts

Eurasian customs union a far-fetched dream for Turkey, say analysts

Aydin Albayrak

Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev reportedly remarked last week that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had told him that Erdoğan wants Turkey to join the Eurasian Common Market, presently composed of Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus, but that idea is neither realistic nor in Turkey's interests, according to analysts.

“It's impossible for Turkey to be part of the [Eurasian] common market,” İlyas Kemaloğlu, a Eurasia advisor at the Ankara-based Center for Middle Eastern Strategic Studies (ORSAM), told Sunday's Zaman.

He maintains that Russia would never agree to such an offer “because the Eurasian Common Market is a Russian project brought forward to revive the former Soviet Union.”

Nazarbayev reportedly announced at the Supreme Eurasian Economic Council (EEC) meeting late last month that Erdoğan had told him about Turkey's hope to become a member of the Eurasian customs union that aims to form a common economic space in Eurasia, somewhat similar to the European Union.

“It's the right thing to do for Turkey to carry out a multi-dimensional foreign policy, but it would be wrong to change its axis by moving away from the Western bloc, which is what such a step would represent,” Murat Bilhan told Sunday's Zaman. Emphasizing that EU membership should remain a strategic goal for Turkey since it represents modern values such as democracy, he added, “It's in Turkey's interests to

engage in partnerships with such organizations, but wrong to take it as an alternative to the EU.”

But a Turkish official who asked not to be named has partly denied the remarks attributed to Nazarbayev, saying that Turkey's goal is not membership status in the organization, but improving relations with it as part of Turkey's multi-dimensional foreign policy.

“During the talk between Erdoğan and Nazarbayev, Erdoğan expressed Turkey's wish to improve relations with the newly developing customs union. No membership bid is on the agenda,” the official said to Sunday's Zaman, noting at the same time that Turkey gives great importance to developing relations with both Kazakhstan and Russia. The official dismissed claims that the move may represent a quest on the part of Turkey for a substitute for the EU saying, “This is in no way a strategic move in search of alternatives to the EU. This [organization] would not be an alternative to the EU, but complementary.”

Frustrated by the EU's dismissive attitude toward Turkey, which has been struggling to become a full member of the EU for 50 years, the country may also be sending a message of warning to the EU. At the beginning of the year, Erdoğan also said Turkey is seriously considering becoming a full member of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), which includes China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

On the sidelines of a meeting in Kazakhstan in April, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ahmet Davutoğlu spoke enthusiastically at a press conference in Almaty about the organization to which Turkey was granted dialogue partner status despite its wish to be given observer status, saying, “We declare our destiny to be the same as that of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization countries.”

According to Kemaloğlu, the best way for Turkey to develop trade ties with the Eurasian Common Market countries is to engage in joint ventures with Kazakh companies in Kazakhstan, already a member of the organization. “This way, Turkey would greatly benefit from the opportunities the Eurasian customs union presents,” he commented.

The Eurasian customs union agreement between Russia, Kazakhstan and Belarus was established in the end of 2009 and became fully functional in July 2011. The customs union is designed to promote free trade between members by removing customs duties and economic restrictions, save for special protective, anti-dumping and compensatory measures. As part of the agreement, a uniform tariff policy and other measures regulating trade with third nations are also applied. Source: