Turkey as a Test for Europe. Is Turkey threatened by the Lastest Developments in the Middle East and Europe? Ath ns Seminar of 2005, Athens, 8-9 July 2005



Athens 8-9 July 2005

 Turkey’s accession to the European Union (EU) has always been a test for Europe both before and after the failed referenda in France and the Netherlands. Before the referenda, the test failed once when Turkey was promised to be treated on an equal footing with the other candidate countries and this promise was not fulfilled. The second major test will be when the European Council will approve the Negotiating Framework for Turkey, a document that will constitute the basis of accession negotiations with Turkey. The governments of some EU member States expressed doubts about the appropriateness of Turkey’s accession to the EU, because of its size, level of economic development and cultural identity, while others supported Turkey’s accession. Not only opinion varies from one EU country to the other, but also from one segment of the society to the other in the same country. For instance, in Greece, according to recent news, an extreme right organization by the name of Hrisi Avgi, is planning to organize in September this year in the town of Meligala in Peloponnios a Europe-wide festival, to promote the idea of throwing the Turks out of Europe, while the Greek government continues to support unequivocally Turkey’s accession to the EU.

            In many cases, the objection to Turkey’s accession comes from the opposition parties. It will be more cautious to see what these political parties will do if and when they come to power and assume the government responsibility.

            Even after the failed referenda, one may safely speculate that the culture of conciliation will again prevail among the member countries of the EU and that they will be able to work out some sort of a modus vivendi that will satisfy all concerned. Or, the most permanent solution will again be the solution that makes all parties equally unhappy.

            Is Turkey Threatened by the latest developments in the Middle East?

         The answer to this question may vary according to which country in the Middle East are we referring to.

Turkey has a cautious optimism for the latest developments in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is cautious, because, none of the similar initiatives succeeded in the past. Although, the political landscape is slightly different after the change in the leadership in Palestine, it is too early to say that this change in the leadership will affect the course of events in this protracted dispute.

Developments in Syria do not threaten Turkey any longer, after Syria agreed not to extend protection to Öcalan, the leader of the terrorist gang PKK. However Turkey will be negatively affected from any destabilising development in Syria. Turkey’s longest land border is with Syria. The two countries are linked to each other with historical, ethnic and cultural ties. Turkey encouraged Syria to withdraw its troops from the Lebanon and would like to see that all types of Syria’s involvement in the internal affairs of the Lebanon come to an end.

 Syria should be encouraged and helped to cooperate more closely with the international community especially in combating terrorism. This cannot be achieved by isolating or alienating Syria.

In Iraq, if the US military initiative does not succeed, the country may plunge into a deeper chaos. Every effort has to be made to help the US to be successful. On the other hand, the US has to lend a more careful ear to the international community. At present, the situation in Iraq does not lend itself to be optimistic.

Mistakes are committed in the oil rich region of Kirkuk, by turning a blind eye to the attempts made there to change its demographic and ethnic composition. Oil reserves are the common wealth of the entire Iraqi people. They should not be monopolized by any ethnic group. Such an attempt may lead the country to a civil strife whose consequences are difficult to estimate. If it leads to the dismemberment of Iraq, this may destabilise the entire region with all unpredictable consequences that it may entail.

In Iran, the results of the last presidential elections was a surprise for Turkey as much as it was a surprise elsewhere. However, no significant irregularity is reported during the elections. Therefore, the result should be regarded as the will of the majority of the Iranian people. Since Iran is not expected to go back to its earlier policy of “exporting the Islamic revolution”, Turkey does not feel threatened because of these elections.  However, if Iran does not fully cooperate with the international community, or with the International Atomic Energy Agency for that matter, and implements a programme aimed at the military use of the nuclear energy, Turkey will be threatened.

Is Turkey Threatened by the latest developments in Europe?

For the sake of this meeting I will use the words “latest developments in Europe” to refer to the failed constitutional referenda, the EU Summit of 16-17 June 2005 and the adoption by the EU Commission of the Negotiating Framework for Turkey

Is Turkey threatened by these developments?

To be threatened is too strong a wording to characterise what Turkey may feel after the latest developments.

One consequence of the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty in the French and Dutch referenda is almost certain: It will slow down the European integration process. The EU Summit of 16-17 June gave the first signal of it. It started by postponing the deadline for the ratification of the Constitution, which was initially fixed for the end of 2006. It was the wisest decision under the prevailing circumstances. The EU needed a reflection period and this was granted.

To what extent these developments may have negative impacts on Turkey’s accession depends on several parameters. These parameters should be assessed within their proper context, neither by exaggerating their effects nor by underestimating them.

 Firstly, the analysis of the results of the French and Dutch referenda indicates that Turkey’s accession was only one of several reasons for the rejection of the Constitutional Treaty and it was not among the major ones. In the French referendum, dissatisfaction with the President Chirac’s policy, lack of knowledge of the content of the Constitution, agricultural subsidies, difficulties in the social security scheme were among the reasons for the rejection. Only 6 % of the voters in France and 3 % in the Netherlands mentioned Turkey among the reasons of their negative vote. They did not say that they rejected the Constitution because of Turkey. Turkey was quoted as one among several factors for their rejection. Therefore, the role of Turkey’s accession to the EU played much less role than 6 % in France; and much less than 3 % in the Netherlands. This is not a threatening proportion. One may even say that the opponents of Turkey’s accession constitute a negligible minority. In other words, the Constitution was going to be rejected even if the question of Turkey’s membership were not on the agenda.

Second, Europe has yet to redefine itself after the failed referenda.  One cannot foresee what will be the outcome of this redefinition. A group of countries led by France, Germany and Austria are reluctant to further enlarge the EU. Belgium and Spain could be considered as part of this group. The second group led by Britain is in favour of a more diverse and economically liberal Europe. Many developments will be kept on hold until the dispute between these two groups is concluded. What emerges from this dispute may not be an EU as liberal as Britain wishes to see. However, it may not be as tightly integrated EU as envisaged in the rejected Constitution either, because such a model does not seem to be supported by the public opinion of many countries in the EU. If this will lead to a looser EU in the future, it could accommodate Turkey more easily. Therefore, rather than a threat, the latest developments may even offer more optimistic prospects for Turkey.

Third, an increasing part of the Turkish public opinion started to regard Turkey’s exclusion from the EU, not as a threat for Turkey, but more as a detrimental development for Europe itself. Surveys carried out by various European think tanks indicate that both Turkey and Europe need each other and that Europe may benefit from Turkey’s accession more than what Turkey will benefit from this accession.

             Fourth, the latest developments are likely to further slow down the pace of negotiations with Turkey. The member countries will be tempted to come up with tougher demands. Some countries started to voice more openly their preference for the status to be given to Turkey, namely a status, which is less than full membership. The Turkish people’s confidence in the EU may slowly erode by such attitudes. More people may start wondering in Turkey whether it is worth embarking upon such an unpromising goal.

            The Framework for Negotiations with Turkey, issued on 29 June 2005 will constitute another test for the EU to demonstrate to what extent it is serious on its dealings with Turkey If the European Council approves this document without any substantive amendment, it will constitute an indication that the EU abides by its commitments. If not, the Turkish government may come under increasing pressure not to show flexibility during the accession negotiations.

One cannot claim that Turkey has been treated fairly and on equal footing during the entire process of candidacy. Nevertheless Turkey does not want to become entangled in the details and lose sight of the main target, which is the full membership to the EU. However, this erosion of confidence will remain registered in the mind of the public opinion for some time.

In certain countries, objection to Turkey’s accession was based on domestic political considerations. These considerations may continue to prevail in certain countries for some time. If a political leader does not believe that Turkey could make a positive contribution to the EU by joining it, we have to respect his opinion. However if he believes that Turkey may make a positive contribution, he will have to make an effort to explain it to his electorate. Turkey should not be asked to shoulder the entire responsibility to explain to the public the advantages of this mutual benefit.

Finally, the EU allowed itself a reflection period after the rejection of the Constitution. If the Constitution were to be ratified in all member countries of the EU, attention would be focused on the accession negotiations with Turkey, while it will be focused now on the internal problems of the EU. Turkey may utilize this reflection period to put more order to its own house and eliminate potential discrepancies that could be utilized by certain EU countries as an excuse to slow down the progress of the accession negotiations.

The present government in Turkey is on the record to point out on various occasions that it is determined to carry out all reforms required to comply with the Copenhagen political criteria. If, despite this, certain EU countries maintain their opposition to Turkey’s accession, sensitivity may rise in Turkey and the government may be faced with a pressure not to give in any longer. Such a development will unavoidably sharpen nationalistic feelings in Turkey with all negative consequences that it entails.

            The biggest losers in this equation could be Greece and Cyprus, because there is a widespread feeling in Turkey that the EU framework contributes to a large extent to the softening of Turkey’s bilateral relations with Greece and to the solution of the Cyprus problem.

Greece has come to realize several years ego the wisdom of supporting Turkey’s accession to the EU and reversed its decades old policy of opposing it.

            Greek Cypriot policy on Turkey’s accession is perceived in Turkey, as unclear or perhaps clear but unacceptable. Unacceptable, if it means that the Greek Cypriots favour Turkey’s accession on their own terms. Unclear, if it means something else.

 Flexibility displayed by the present government in Turkey is the result of its desire to solve the Cyprus problem with or without the EU. However, the EU factor is definitely a facilitating element. Nonetheless, it is not realistic to expect any government in Turkey to make substantive concessions in the Cyprus question for the sake of joining the EU.

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