COMMENT: EU membership is a hurdles race for Turkey

Daily Times, Pakistan
July 6 2005

COMMENT: EU membership is a hurdles race for Turkey

– Ijaz Hussain

Turkey must be admired for the determination it has shown in the
face of hurdles put in its way. It is imperative that it perseveres
till it achieves its objective or the EU’s real face of a `Christian
club’ is fully exposed

The results of the recent French and Dutch referenda on the EU draft
constitution surprised no one. However, they also sent out the
unintended signal that Turks, who are keen to get into the EU, are
not welcome to its fold. The message was further highlighted when the
EU summit broke down on the question of a long-term budget that would
provide funding for newcomers. The EU Commission chief, Jose Manual
Barroso, then stated that the EU needed to discuss the signal that
the French and Dutch voters had sent about Turkey’s accession.

The Turkish government, for its part, tried to put up a brave face.
Its foreign minister observed that, `This result is something that
concerns the French public… not Turkey.’ The EU Commission, too,
announced that the accession talks would start on schedule.

In the French referendum the issues for the voters were the
introduction of a market economy (that many saw as savage Anglo-Saxon
capitalism), the threat of NATO controlling European defence and the
policies of President Chirac, all of which they disapproved of. The
Dutch electorate, on the other hand, voted for keeping the Dutch
persona intact and against dissolving into Europe and the individual
losses suffered because of depreciation of guilder when the country
joined the common currency.

The common theme was a vote of no confidence against expansion –
admission of 10 new members last year and possible accession of more
states in the future. The vote was not just against immigrants from
Eastern Europe but also against those from Turkey. Rightist parties
in both countries worked overtime to scare voters of immigration from
Muslim Turkey.

France and Holland were under no obligation to refer the question of
ratification of the draft constitution to a popular vote. They could
have achieved the desired result by referring the matter to the
parliament as more than 10 countries did. Now that they have
exercised the referendum option, this can have implications for the
Turkish membership when the question comes up.

There could be pressure, particularly on the French government to
hold another referendum because President Chirac is on record having
advocated towards the end of last year an amendment in the French
constitution along these lines. The proposal was at that time
supported by Italy’s right-wing Northern League party, which is
currently part of the ruling coalition. A strong lobby in Germany,
represented by the Christian Democrats, is also opposed to the
Turkish entry. Austria, Belgium and Luxembourg also share this
hostility and may opt for a referendum when the time comes.

But a mandatory referendum in any country would amount to changing
rules for admission to the EU. Turkey has warned in the past against
such shifting of the goal post. Following the recent referenda, the
Turkish prime minister, Recip Erdogan, again warned: `If you impose
new conditions on candidate countries, especially a country about to
start negotiations, that would not be right’.

However, the fact remains that the start of accession talks next
October does not mean that the EU would be content with the
fulfilment of the `Copenhagen criteria’ and that the entry rules
would not change. In fact as far as Turkey is concerned, they are
most likely to change in the future just as they have changed in the
past.

For example, the 1999 Helsinki summit, which accepted Turkey’s
eligibility for the EU membership, while envisaging a political
settlement of the Cyprus issue or its reference to the ICJ within a
reasonable period of time, did not make it a prerequisite for
membership. Subsequently the EU practically made it a prerequisite
and gave a date for accession talks only after it was satisfied that
Turkey had made good faith efforts to solve the Cyprus problem and
after Turkish Cypriots had voted for unification in the 2004
unification referendum.

There are indications that the EU may attach a rider of another kind
for the Turkish entry. It relates to the recognition by Turkey of the
`genocide’ of 1.5 million Armenians, supposedly during 1915-23. The
EU parliament recently demanded – on the occasion of the review of
the Turkish penal code, which punishes any suggestion of Armenian
`genocide’ by the Turks as crime against national honour – that
Turkey own up to its past on Armenia. Earlier, on November 15, 2000,
it had formally accused Turkey of `genocide’.

The sentiment against Turkey on Armenia runs in individual countries
as well. The German parliament recently adopted a resolution
condemning Turkey for killing of Armenians by Turks 90 years ago.
Though, it stopped short of calling the killings `genocide’, it
sparked an angry protest from Ankara. In November 2000, the French
Senate had denounced the killing of Armenians by Turks as `genocide’.
The vote had drawn a sharp and swift criticism from the Turkish
government that forced the French to back down on the issue. However,
like the Holocaust the Armenian `genocide’ is today on the French
statute books and denying it is considered a crime.

The resentment against Turkey on Armenia is not restricted to Europe.
The Americans also seem to share it. During the presidency of Bill
Clinton, the US House of Representatives adopted a draft resolution
that referred to the killing of Armenians as `genocide’.
Subsequently, the House withdrew it on request from the president
following a threat by the Turkish government to stop military
cooperation and cancel a $4.5 billion defence deal.

Turkey denies the slaughter of 1.5 million Armenians. It accepts that
hundreds of thousands of them were killed but argues that even more
Turks died during the partisan conflict resulting from the support
extended by Armenians to the invading Russian troops. It fears that
it would be required by the EU to recognise the killing of Armenians
as `genocide’. Will it eat the humble pie and do what the EU wants?

Indications are that it will – principally, because it is desperate
to get into the EU and seems prepared to do virtually anything to
that end. When the EU accused Turkey of `genocide’ in 2000, the main
opposition, Virtue Party, was prepared to appease it by proposing a
legislative investigation into the matter and removing `wrong and
biased opinions’.

Will Turkey’s acceptance of the EU demand to recognise the killings
as `genocide’ – if and when it comes – signify an end to the hurdles
race to membership? In our opinion, this is far from certain. It
appears that the hurdles – past as well as future – are merely handy
justifications to delay the membership question. There is plenty of
evidence to conclude that the real reason relates to the Islamic
character of the Turkish society. Turkey must be admired for the
dogged determination it has shown so far in the face of hurdles put
in its way beyond the `Copenhagen criteria’. It is imperative that it
perseveres in its efforts till such time that it achieves its
objective or the EU’s real face of a `Christian club’ is fully
exposed.

The writer, a former dean of social sciences at the Quaid-i-Azam
University, is an independent political and legal analyst

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