Updating Our Odds for Turkish EU Accession

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 10/08/2009 12:46:00 PM

I am one of those who think Turkey's EU bid has been, ah, coloured by less-than-objective factors. Would Europe embrace this predominantly Muslim country bordering Iraq, among others, into its fold? As the clip from Avenue Q above says, maybe everyone's a little bit racist--including this bastion of progressive thought. In somewhat less controversial diplomat-speak, the main impediments to Turkish EU accession concern its will to resolve the Cyprus question and its treatment of the Kurdish minority. This commentary from Azerbaijan's APA notes that the recent detente between Turkey and Armenia takes a backseat to these outstanding issues:
Indeed, the two biggest game-changers in Ankara’s membership talks are Cyprus and the ‘Kurdish question’. Cyprus is, superficially, similar to the Armenian issue – an inter-state dispute with deep roots, which currently hinges on a closed border and diplomatic recognition. Unlike the Armenian issue, Cyprus is an EU member. Consequently, the dispute with Cyprus is the biggest single stumbling block in Turkey’s EU application.

Clearly it [Cyprus] is not the only issue – there are 35 ‘chapters’ on which Ankara must satisfy Brussels, and only one (science and research) has been completed. But Cyprus’ significance is such that, when Turkey failed to apply a 2005 protocol on free movement of goods and people to the Cypriot government, the EU insisted that no ‘chapters’ could be closed, and that several would not be discussed until it had applied the protocol. The stakes are hardly as high in the Armenian thaw.

The Kurdish question is less significant than Cyprus, but more so than Armenia. The EU is reluctant to move forward on membership talks with a state which still - despite much recent progress - faces a serious ethnic insurgency. Until Ankara can, in the eyes of Brussels, get its house in order and negotiate a peaceful settlement with its Kurdish population, it will continue to be viewed as an irresponsible and unsuitable candidate for membership by some within Brussels.

It is instructive to look at the question in reverse. If, for instance, Turkey had resolved Cyprus and the Kurdish question, but had failed to make headway on opening the Armenian border, would this impede its membership process? It is unlikely.
Nevertheless, Turkish President Abdullah Gul is currently touring Europe seeking a softening of the Franco-German opposition against the "other" in Turkey:
President Abdullah Gul is touring France, hoping to persuade Paris to soften its fierce opposition to Turkey's membership in the European Union. Gul arrived in Paris on Wednesday and met with foreign policy experts at the onset of his three-day visit. The president is scheduled to talk with Premier Francois Fillon on Thursday, a day before meeting his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy, who is staunchly opposed to Turkey's bid.

Before leaving for France, Gul insisted his administration has been committed to implementing reforms required by the 27-nation European bloc, and said the mainly Muslim state was making good progress on the issue. Ankara launched EU membership negotiations in 2005, but has so far opened talks in only 11 of the 35 policy areas it needs to complete as an anti-expansion drive within the EU and spearheaded by Europe's big powers such as France and Germany seeks to slow, if not fully block, the process.

Eurasian Turkey, with only a small portion west of the Bosporus geographically located in Europe, holds a large population of Muslims in its Asian side and could further jostle the insecure European job market with its 76 million citizens. In June, Sarkozy flatly rejected US President Barack Obama's support for Turkish EU membership, saying Turkey should be a bridge between East and West. "It's very important for Europe to have borders. For me, Europe is a force stability in the world and I cannot allow that force for stabilization to be destroyed," he said.
Meanwhile, Turkey's chief negotiator with the EU, Egemen Bagis, rightly disavows anything less than full EU membership for Turkey--certainly not the half-baked "privileged membership" offered by France. In an interview in EurActiv, he speaks about the Cyprus matter as well as the rites of membership. Here are some of the key questions:
A number of chapters in Turkey's negotiations are blocked, mainly over the Cyprus issue, if my information is correct. Who blocked those chapters and why?

[Laughter] It's as complicated as who killed Jesus […] I think that the most important thing that we should focus is that that the most difficult part of the negotiations is behind us. And the most difficult part has been putting the Turkey train on the EU tracks. The most difficult part was starting the accession talks. Every country that has ever stated accession negotiations has at the end completed them. Turkey will not be an exception.

It took us 40 years just to get a date to start accession talks. We did not give up. We were committed, we were decided, and we were patient. And today, we are even more committed, more decided and more patient than ever.

Do you think the Union made a compromise by allowing Cyprus in the EU without its problems with Turkey being solved?

I'm not in a position to make a judgement on that. But I know some European leaders who have said publicly, including [German] Chancellor Merkel, that including Cyprus before a solution was a big mistake.

But this is not in your favour. Merkel probably means that the negotiations with Turkey should not have stated. Isn't the situation with Ms. Merkel now more complicated for you?

No. 17% of all foreign investment in Turkey is German. There are three million Turks that live in Germany. 1.2 million of them are citizens of that great country. Germany and Turkey enjoy a very strong relationship. We may sometimes differ on issues, but we are allies, we are partners, we are friends and the relationship between the two countries is very solid. In every relationship, you have good days and better days. But Turkey and Germany can easily handle differences of views.

Who is blocking Turkey's negotiating chapters?

Well, there are five chapters blocked by France, there are three by Austria and Germany, there are eight because of the Ankara Protocol, but it's a Council decision, it's not Cyprus. Cyprus is trying to prevent the opening of two chapters, education and energy. But I think these problems can be overcome.

Regarding the Turkey-EU talks, apart from the blocked chapter, your country has to deliver on the Union's requirements as any other candidate country. Do you think that your country can deliver as well as the countries from the 2004 and 2007 enlargements?

I think that Turkey is more capable than many other countries in those issues. We have already fulfilled most of the Maastricht criteria, although we didn't have to. When banks went bankrupt throughout Europe in 2008, not a single Turkish bank lost money. The only facilities of French automaker Renault that profited in 2008 were the ones in Romania and in Turkey. Turkey is a very young, dynamic nation. We have the fourth largest workforce in Europe. The medium age in Turkey is 28. Half of our nation of 70 million is below the age of 25. And we have come a long way in the last 10 years. Ten years ago we were the 27th largest economy in the world, today we are the 16th.

We have a case – we can become one of the top economies and top countries of the world, even without becoming a member of the EU. So EU membership is very important anchor, but it's not our only option.

But this is precisely the message Mr. Sarkozy will be delighted to hear. As you say membership is not the only option, he is proposing a privileged partnership…

I said the EU is not the only option. I didn't say full membership is not the only option. Turkey will only accept full membership, nothing less, nothing more. But Europe is not our only option. But if we chose plan A, we chose full membership. I checked the 100.000-page acquis, there's nothing besides membership. There is no alternative to membership. It doesn't exist. What President Sarkozy used to say, and what his colleagues promised me not to use those insulting, those horrible phrases again, does not exist. What insulting phrases? Privileged partnership.

Is it insulting?

Very insulting. Because it does not exist. There is no legal foundation for it.

But you may find Mr. Sarkozy even more reluctant after these statements.

Well, he will be hosting our president tonight (7 October) and I will be going from here to Paris today to meet with them. But I was there two weeks ago. And they realised that these phrases are insulting.
France24 has more on the ongoing Gul tour of France. Sarkozy has never been shy about excluding Turkey from EU accession consideration as a campaign plank for the UMP. I wish Gul and his accession team all the best. However, despite the ongoing strides Turkey has made in terms of rule of law, democracy, and human rights, perhaps deep down it's pointless since...[cue song above] everyone's a little bit racist. Think of right-wingers scaremongering about Turkish migrants overwhelming Western European job markets already hit by recession, etc.