Economist: Turkey’s Circular Worries


Sept 3 2009

It is increasingly hard to pretend that Turkey’s negotiations with
the European Union are on track

Illustration by Peter SchrankTURKEY’S friends inside the European Union
believe that history is on their side. Ask these national politicians,
diplomats and EU officials if they think Turkey will one day achieve
full membership, and they answer that it must. In a decade or two,
they say, objections to Turkish entry will look trifling, next to the
country’s strategic benefits as an energy hub, regional diplomatic
power and bridge to the Muslim world, not to mention as a dynamic
economy filled with young people.

Yet when it comes to the glacial pace of Turkey’s formal membership
negotiations, those same friends are starting to sound the alarm. When
talks began in October 2005, the popular notion was of a virtuous
circle. Turkish reformers would use the EU process to push through
changes that would transform the country. This would reassure
Europeans, bring EU membership closer, strengthen the reformers and
so on. In one of those polished phrases much beloved of diplomats,
it was murmured that, for Turkey, the "journey is as important as
the destination".

Yet it turns out that, for the journey to go on, those embarked on
it must also believe in the destination. Turks read newspapers. They
know that European leaders like France’s Nicolas Sarkozy think it
is time to stop "lying" to Turkey about full membership. Turkey is
in "Asia Minor", Mr Sarkozy says; he will not be the one to "tell
French schoolchildren that the borders of Europe extend to Syria and
Iraq." The danger of such rhetoric is clear: doubt the EU’s sincerity
and the circle turns from virtuous to vicious.

Complying with EU environmental law could cost â~B¬140 billion ($200
billion), says Cengiz Aktar, a professor at Bahcesehir University. No
country would spend that without a clear path to membership. Some
demands are pushy. One EU benchmark involves opening Turkey’s
public-procurement market to European firms. That market is worth
around â~B¬60 billion a year, says Mr Aktar. It is not going to
open "while Sarkozy is going around saying Turkey will never be a
member." Thus reforms slow–and Turkey’s opponents inside Europe duly
proclaim they were right all along and the country is unfit to join.

An independent commission of pro-Turkey bigwigs, led by a former
Finnish president, Martti Ahtisaari, will publish a progress report
on September 7th. They do not mince their words. Actions by "some
European leaders", they say, have "all but derailed the process." At
the same time, there has been a "regrettable" slowing of reforms
inside Turkey. Add in polls that show growing Euro-disillusionment
inside Turkey, and a "vicious circle" is upon us, Mr Ahtisaari and
his colleagues conclude.

Out of the 35 "chapters" in the accession talks, only one has been
completed. Eight are formally blocked because Turkey has not kept
an agreement to open its ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus,
an EU member since 2004 (Turkey does not recognise the Greek-Cypriot
republic and insists that Turkish north Cyprus is being unfairly
blockaded). The reunification of divided Cyprus would unblock this
impasse. Promising peace talks began in 2008 under a new Cypriot
president, Demetris Christofias. Yet it is now "hard to trace" a
sense of urgency on the Greek-Cypriot side, says an official. This
could cost the president of Turkish northern Cyprus, Mehmet Ali Talat,
his job: he faces an election next year, and hardline opponents are
circling. The European Commission must also report to EU governments
in December on Turkish compliance with its port-opening promise. The
report may set the scene for a big new row.

Mr Ahtisaari’s commission calls for carping European politicians to
shut up, more or less, and stick to EU promises to judge Turkey’s
membership application purely in terms of compliance with EU rules
and values. The problem is that it is hard to see such politicians
shutting up. In places like Austria, Germany, the Netherlands and
France, Turkey-bashing is a vote-winner.

Finnish common sense Ask him in person, and Mr Ahtisaari, who won
a Nobel peace prize for mediating in such tough spots as Kosovo,
suggests that a bit of time may sort this out. Mr Sarkozy will not
be around forever, and Turkey’s membership talks will take years, he
says. "Having once been a president, I tend to say: presidents come
and go." The key is for Europe to keep its word, and allow the talks
to continue. Other senior figures are more nuanced. The good news,
maintains one, is that the Turkish elite still appears to believe in
the membership talks. The main Turkish opposition party seems to be
more EU-friendly than before. Recent government concessions such as
the opening of a Kurdish-language television channel should gain credit
with the EU, as will recent signs of a Turkish-Armenian rapprochement.

But the bad news is that Mr Sarkozy means what he says. Sources talk
of "serious moves" by France to open a discussion with Turkey next
year about alternatives to membership, to "put the cards on the table
for the Turks". France would want German backing before making such a
move. The forthcoming election in Germany is likely to produce, as now,
a coalition government that is divided on the Turkey question. That
may help Turkey, as it ties Germany to the status quo of letting the
talks go on.

Mr Aktar suggests that individual EU countries which back Turkey
should name an unofficial target date for entry: perhaps 2023, the
centenary of the Turkish republic. The whole EU would never agree to
a deadline, he recognises, but even the idea of an end-point would
helpfully boost morale.

It is an intriguing suggestion. On the EU side, the passage of time
can be expected to make the case for Turkish entry stronger. Yet in
Turkey the slow pace of talks is reducing the chances of success. If
Europeans and Turks can meet somewhere in the middle, they might just
make history.

From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress

Emil Lazarian

“I should like to see any power of the world destroy this race, this small tribe of unimportant people, whose wars have all been fought and lost, whose structures have crumbled, literature is unread, music is unheard, and prayers are no more answered. Go ahead, destroy Armenia . See if you can do it. Send them into the desert without bread or water. Burn their homes and churches. Then see if they will not laugh, sing and pray again. For when two of them meet anywhere in the world, see if they will not create a New Armenia.” - WS