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Turkey and EU: rough road ahead

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  • Turkey and EU: rough road ahead

    Turkey and EU: rough road ahead

    By Shadaba Islam

    THE opening on October 3 of Turkey’s negotiations to join the European Union was supposed to be a solemn affair, a ceremony marked by dignified speeches and toasts to the beginning of a new era in relations between Ankara and the 25-nation bloc.

    The entry talks were launched at just a few minutes past midnight on the appointed day. But not exactly in the manner and mood they were expected to.

    Instead of a solemn ceremony, there was high drama, tension and suspense. EU foreign ministers meeting in Luxembourg for eleventh-hour crisis talks starting on October 2 squabbled and bickered over the final membership terms for Turkey for almost 30 hours — with a short five hour break to get some sleep.

    The focus was on British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw — who hosted the emergency meeting in Luxembourg — as he struggled to convince a skeptical Austria to stop insisting that Turkey should be offered some form of watered-down privileged partnership rather than full EU membership.

    There were endless unsuccessful bilateral encounters between an increasingly weary Straw and the glamorous but stubborn Austrian Foreign Minister Ursula Plassnik who stuck to her guns until the very last hour — and only gave the green light to the talks with Turkey once Vienna had received a go-ahead from EU governments for the parallel opening of accession negotiations with Croatia.

    Straw’s negotiating juggling act included not only talks with Austria and other EU states but also with Turkish leaders who were waiting impatiently in Ankara to hear if the negotiations were going to start as promised and whether the terms being offered by the EU were acceptable. Straw also held phone discussions with US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice who had to call Turkish officials to convince them that one of the key provisions in the final EU package would not infringe on Ankara’s obligations in the Nato defence alliance.

    The official EU circus, comprised of foreign ministers, their close aides, officials and spokespeople was only part of the story, however. The other half of the stage was occupied by at least 1,000 reporters, TV cameramen and photographers, all anxious to be part of the biggest EU story in several years — and to tell it like it is to their readers, listeners and viewers.

    In fact, most reporters in Brussels had been on full “Ankara alert” for weeks preceding the Luxembourg meeting. First it was Cyprus that insisted that the EU must make clear that Turkish recognition of Nicosia must be part of the accession negotiations and that Ankara must grant full access to Cypriot ships and air carriers. Only hours after that hurdle was cleared, Austria put up its own controversial demands.

    In the end, Straw and his Turkish counterpart Abdullah Gul were able to celebrate the opening of accession negotiations — almost on time. It was just past midnight, when Straw and Gul shook hands and told reporters they had “made history.” The “Jack and Abdullah” show was launched in earnest.

    But the way ahead is not going to be easy. The prospect of Turkey’s EU membership poses a test of the very fabric of the bloc — and cuts to the heart of what it means to be European. As French President Jacques Chirac said only hours after the Luxembourg meeting, Turkey will need to undergo a “major cultural revolution” to gain entry into the EU.

    Scepticism about Turkey is also the name of the game in the camp of French Interior Minister Nicolas Sarkozy who is widely expected to run against Chirac in presidential elections in France set for 2007. Germany, meanwhile, may also soon have an anti-Turkey leader in the guise of Christian Democrat leader Angela Merkel in the government driving seat.

    For many in Europe, belonging to the old guard of the continent, accepting the poor, predominantly Muslim nation of 70 million into the mostly affluent EU family raises religious, economic and security issues that will be tough to resolve even over the decade or more set aside for negotiations. “Will Turkey succeed? I cannot say. I hope so. But I am not at all sure,” Chirac said at a news conference in Paris.

    Others in the EU, however, have taken a more tolerant, forward-looking view. “It’s a historic step Europe has won today,” German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer told reporters, adding: “It’s a big chance for both sides.”

    Proponents say Turkey is wealthier even now than eastern European countries like Bulgaria and Romania were when they began membership talks. Since EU entry for Turkey is not expected for at least another 10 years, these advocates of Turkish accession argue that Ankara by that time will be stronger economically and strict EU membership conditions will have helped democratic values take root. That would reinforce Turkey’s role as a member of Nato and a vital EU link with the volatile Middle East.

    Supporters also say that instead of fearing Turkey’s vast pool of young, cheap labour, Europeans should see it as a human windfall that could help offset the continent’s growing demographic crisis, rooted in its increasingly elderly population and falling birthrates. According to this argument, the Turkish workforce will be an essential ingredient in competing with the likes of China and India, the

    century’s emerging economic powers.

    For many in Europe, the real obstacle impeding Turkey’s membership of the EU is Islam. Although Turkey has a secular constitution, many in Europe are finding it difficult to cope with Islam in the aftermath of 9/11, the Madrid train bombings last year and the attacks on the London transport network in July this year. The killing of Dutch filmmaker Theo Van Gogh by a young Moroccan and the controversy in France last year over the ban imposed on the wearing of Muslim headscarves by schoolgirls has added to European fears of being confronted by increasingly militant Muslims living in their own territory.

    But, for many in Europe, such fears are all the more reason for Europe to reach out to Turkey, whose entry has become a powerful symbol to the Muslim world and to the Muslim minority within Europe. As Germany’s Fischer argued, Turkey is central to the EU’s security concerns in the 21st century. Straw said negotiations with Ankara were proof that Islam and the West could thrive side by side in harmony.

    Still, the road ahead looks set to be difficult. Negotiations are expected to take between 10 to 15 years and could be suspended at any time if even one EU country raises objections. As EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn told Turkish officials last week , Ankara will have to press ahead with political and human rights reforms — and ensure their implementation.

    “I have come to Turkey ... to encourage you to focus all energies on reforms and the accession process from now on,” Rehn told a news conference in Ankara after meeting Turkish Foreign Minister Gul. “This means vigorously implementing political reforms in the area of rule of law, human rights, women’s rights, the rights of religious communities and trade unions. That is, to make the rule of law an everyday reality in all walks of life,” Rehn said, adding that “Turkey will be under ever closer scrutiny by the EU, by European public opinion and by member states.”

    While the EU has to work hard to convince a still sceptical European public of the advantages of Turkish accession, politicians in Ankara also face a tough task ahead. Opposition politicians in Turkey and some academics say the government made too many concessions in signing up to a negotiating framework accord with the 25-nation bloc in a rush to get the accession talks started. They say the EU, which still has deep reservations about admitting Turkey into the bloc, has effectively offered Turkey ties short of full membership.

    There is some justification for such concerns. Although Turkey is being offered full entry, EU membership conditions spell out for the first time that accession will depend on the EU’s ability to absorb Turkey as a full member. In fact, the negotiating framework for Turkey has several caveats. EU governments insist for instance that the negotiations are “an open-ended process, the outcome of which cannot be guaranteed beforehand.”

    Also in case of a serious and persistent breach in Turkey of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the union is founded, the commission can, on its own initiative or on the request of one third of the member-states, recommend the suspension of negotiations and propose the conditions for eventual resumption.

    Meanwhile, the agonizing process of negotiating a mandate for Turkey to open membership talks with the EU seems to have exhausted the enthusiasm of many EU governments for any further enlargement. While Croatia managed to slip in under the wire to open its own accession talks, thanks to a last-minute report from the international war crimes tribunal that Zagreb is finally co-operating fully in the hunt for Ante Gotovina, the country’s most notorious war criminal, there is no denying that the EU is in the grips of so-called “enlargement fatigue.”

    This was definitely a factor which led French and Dutch voters to reject the EU constitutional treaty this summer. While more and more countries — in the western Balkans and in the western republics of the former Soviet Union, Ukraine, Moldova and Belarus — knock on the EU’s doors, the focus of ordinary Europeans is on jobs, security and fighting off illegal immigration. The start of negotiations with Turkey is a signal that Europeans can at times look beyond their immediate fears to a brighter world beyond. But the question now is whether EU politicians can take up the same challenge?
    With so many leaders of the EU against the inclusion of Turkey in the EU, what are the chances?

    What are the real reasons to exclude Turkey?

    What are the gains and losses for the EU if Turkey is given membership?

    If Croatia with its negative inputs can vie to be a member, then what is it that prevents her inclusion?

    Think it over!

    "Some have learnt many Tricks of sly Evasion, Instead of Truth they use Equivocation, And eke it out with mental Reservation, Which is to good Men an Abomination."

    I don't have to attend every argument I'm invited to.


  • #2
    Originally posted by Ray
    With so many leaders of the EU against the inclusion of Turkey in the EU, what are the chances?
    I think almost 100%. The economic and political benefits for the EU are too great. Turkey is EU's little China. The question is when and not if. There are not so many leaders opposing Turkish membership and they are just saying Turkey hasn’t reformed enough to start the negotiations, not that they don’t want to see it in the EU.
    What are the real reasons to exclude Turkey?
    Fears of losing jobs to cheaper Turkish labor, country where (Muslim) religion still plays a big role, it's proximity to the volatile middle east, unsolved Kurdish question…
    What are the gains and losses for the EU if Turkey is given membership?
    -more money into EU budget (later)
    -powerful influence over Middle East
    -huge new EU market (Euro zone)
    -more powerful EU
    -enrichment of EU’s cultural picture

    -in the beginning a lot of EU aid for development will go to Turkey, with that less money for others
    -even harder to reach an EU consensus
    -more competition in the job market (good for business, bad for workers)
    If Croatia with its negative inputs can vie to be a member, then what is it that prevents her inclusion?
    Croatia has only one "negative input" - its (people not government) unwillingness to cooperate with Haag. Economically and judicature it is much better prepared for membership in the EU.
    What prevents Turkey from joining is meeting EU standard. New member countries which joined EU in 2004 needed 10 years to meet these standards. Turkey with its different culture and traditions (judicature, role of military...) will in my view take even longer then 10 years for reforms that will satisfy the EU and the EU will stand by its demands. Some in Europe need more time to accommodate the idea of Turkey’s membership in the EU and also EU must prepare itself to a new powerful member.


    • #3
      Turkey-EU relations

      How do you assess the development of relations between Turkey and the EU in recent times? Do you expect real progress along with the migrant crisis, Turkey's state of affairs and the military tension around Syria


      • #4
        Let's not dredge up a thread from 2005 please
        My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.