[OPE-L] Turkey and EU

From: Dogan Goecmen (Dogangoecmen@AOL.COM)
Date: Sun Dec 31 2006 - 05:08:32 EST


Slow Train to Europe
With controversy over Cyprus raging, Turkey's membership in  the E.U. fades 
further into the future

_ (mailto:mail@TIMEatlantic.com?subject=Re:%20Slow Train to Europe) 

Early last week, Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan had reason to be 
 optimistic. During a meeting in Ankara, Pope Benedict XVI said he was in 
favor  of Turkey joining the European Union. This reversed an opinion he had 
delivered  previously as a Cardinal, saying the move would be "a grave error 
against  history." But the good news was short-lived. Just days after the Pope's 
remarks,  Olli Rehn, the E.U.'s Commissioner for Enlargement, recommended that 
the E.U.  suspend a portion of Turkey's membership talks just 13 months after 
they began.  The reason: Turkey's continued unwillingness to open its ports to 
ships from the  Greek-controlled half of the disputed island of Cyprus. 

Greek Cypriot shipping has long been a contentious issue in Turkey's E.U.  
debate. Several months ago, Rehn warned that Turkish obstinacy about it could  
lead to a "train wreck." With no change in Turkish policy since then, Rehn has  
suggested that the European Commission, the 25-member executive body of the  
European Union, vote to suspend eight of the 35 tracks (called chapters) of 
the  negotiations aimed at bringing Turkish institutions up to E.U. standards.  
Britain, Spain, Italy and other countries that have long supported Turkish  
accession argued for a milder penalty, while France pushed for as many as 17  
chapters to be frozen.  
If E.U. leaders accept Rehn's recommendations, Turkey's E.U. accession train  
may not be wrecked, but it will have slowed considerably. After initially  
calling the reprimand "unacceptable," Erdogan said Turkey would continue "in the 
 E.U. direction," while officials in Brussels insisted they were still 
committed  to Turkey's inclusion. "Turkey is not fulfilling all its obligations and 
so  there must be some consequences," said Commission President José Manuel 
Barroso  after the announcement. But, he added, "We don't want to close the door 
on  Turkey."  
That door may be more difficult to prop open than Barroso realizes. Prominent 
 politicians across Europe have been expressing a growing skepticism about  
Turkey's candidacy ever since talks began. Nicolas Sarkozy, French Interior  
Minister and presidential candidate, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel have  
both said they are against full E.U. membership. Harsher critics, such as  
Bavarian Governor Edmund Stoiber, have condemned Turkey's press restrictions and  
limited rights for minorities not as problems to be overcome, but as proof 
that  Turkey is unsuitable for the European club. "Turkey is not a European 
state, and  to admit its accession into the Union would change the character of 
Europe,"  Stoiber declared last week.  
In Turkey, meanwhile, a different kind of skepticism is taking root. When  
Turkey began membership talks, 64% of Turks in one poll said they were in favor  
of joining the E.U. By this month that number had dropped to 32%. Nationalist 
 parties critical of the government's pro-E.U. policies are gaining strength. 
 Support for the country's two right-wing Euro-skeptic opposition parties has 
 grown to 26% from about 17% four years ago. If they capture that much of the 
 vote in next year's election, they could force a coalition with Erdogan's AK 
It's not going to be easy to sort this out. Erdogan's government has pushed  
through reforms to improve the rights of the Kurdish minority and strengthen  
civilian control of the military — measures that helped convince the E.U. to  
open membership talks in the first place. But he seems unwilling to back down 
on  Cyprus. Erdogan has agreed to lift Turkey's restrictions on Greek Cypriot 
ships  and planes only if the E.U. follows through on its promises to ease 
trade  restrictions on the Turkish Cypriot–controlled part of the island.  
Turkish troops have occupied the northern half of the island since invading  
in 1974 in response to an increase in fighting between Greek and Turkish  
Cypriots sparked by an Athens-backed coup. But the international community has  
never recognized the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus that Ankara  
established, and it has existed in near total isolation ever since. "We will not  make a 
move without it being matched," a Turkish Foreign Ministry official told  
Time last week. Finland, which currently holds the presidency of the E.U., tried  
to avert the current crisis by proposing that one Turkish Cypriot port be 
opened  in exchange for handing an abandoned tourist resort back to the Greek 
Cypriots.  The initiative collapsed last week when each side refused to make 
concessions  that would weaken its bargaining power in future talks.  
For now, Turkey and the E.U. seem to be at an impasse. "Turkey is a key  
player in many regions. We carry out strategic obligations as peacekeepers in  
these regions. But the E.U. is disregarding all of that to focus on one issue  
alone," says the Turkish Foreign Ministry official. "They are holding a  
strategic vision of the future hostage to the Cyprus issue." European Commission  
officials counter that Turkey needs to be shown that rules are rules. "The E.U.  
is a community of law," says Rehn. "Failure to meet them cannot remain without 
 consequences. We need to make this clear."  
What's not clear, however, is whether stepping up the pressure on Ankara will 
 produce the E.U.'s desired effect. Turkey could withdraw from the accession  
process altogether, although that seems unlikely for now. Rehn, who's fond of 
 train metaphors, recently trotted out another one. Turkey's E.U. accession 
is  not a Eurostar, he said, but the Orient Express. It may not get there too  
quickly, but it will get there. Someday. 

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