Turkey And The EU


Washington Times, DC
Dec 26 2006

The European Union did itself a disservice this month with
a decision to suspend eight of the 35 "chapters" of Turkey’s
accession negotiations, the most recent in a series of episodes that
suggest Europe is distancing itself from Turkey. The Turks have been
increasingly frustrated by what they perceive as a double standard
applied to their country’s membership bid, and popular opinion in
Turkey is turning increasingly against the process. The successful
accession would help solidify Turkey as a Western-oriented democracy in
the Muslim world, while a failure would be damaging to its relationship
with Western allies and to the Turkish republic itself.

Economic and political reforms are challenging to accomplish in Turkey,
but the carrot of EU accession makes difficult reforms more palatable
and politically feasible. The EU process also establishes a structural
framework for Turkey’s reforms, for which the entry requirements can
be tremendously valuable as a guide. But if the requirements are set
so as to preclude Turkish membership rather than to encourage and
direct Turkish reforms, the entire process becomes unproductive —
or, at worst, counterproductive by turning Turkey to the East.

The eight "chapters" were suspended this month because of a deadlock
over the Cyprus issue, the decades-old conflict between ethnic Turks
in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south of the island. Turkey
has refused to open its ports to trade with Cyprus, an EU member that
Turkey does not recognize. The EU, in turn, maintains an embargo on the
Turkish-occupied northern part of the divided island. Resolving this
contentious issue is complicated, but it need not cause an impasse
in Turkey’s membership talks. A late proposal from Turkey to open
two ports to trade with Cyprus for a year had merit, at least in as
much as it would have offered a one-step-forward alternative to the
suspension of negotiations.

Heading into an election year in Turkey adds another dimension.

For one, the EU shouldn’t expect Turkish politicians to concede much
on the issues of Cyprus or the Armenian genocide, a dark chapter
in Turkey’s history that the government has not revisited. A rebuff
from Europe to some extent reflects poorly on the ruling Justice and
Development Party (AKP), the leading supporter of EU accession. The
Republican People’s Party (CHP) — AKP’s sole opposition in parliament,
and the best contender to overtake AKP in 2007 — has opposed EU
accession, contrary to the position its own ideology would seem to
dictate, largely because of its role as sole parliamentary minority
party and its chosen course of reflexive opposition to any AKP

When the dust from the accession process settles many years down
the road, and Turkey has either joined the EU with full or partial
membership — or has not joined — an undeniably important measure
of the process will be the extent to which Turkey has continued to
enact economic and political reforms that bring it more in line with
its Western allies than its Eastern neighbors. Turkey feels the pull
between two poles: a secular and democratic Europe and a hostile,
undemocratic Middle East. The more it appears that Europe is trying
to close the door to membership, the more likely Turkey will embrace
a more Islamist Middle East. This is a strategic blunder that the
West should not allow to happen.

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