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Turkey: European Accession Negotiations

Ioannis Michaletos, Athens, Greece, February 23, 2007

Hundreds of people gathered in Istanbul earlier this month to protest negative reports on Turkish nationalists following a series of violent incidents, including the Jan. 19 murder of prominent Turkish-Armenian journalist Hrant Dink. (Photo: Hocine Zaourar / AFP-Getty Images)

On Dec. 11, the 25 foreign ministers of the European Union stalled accession negotiations for Turkey and provided a lengthier timetable for its proposed entrance to the Union.

A more analytic review of the yearly report* of the European Commission on Turkey presents a more down to earth approach to the accession negotiations that point toward long-term prospects for actual developments. Accordingly, Turkey should achieve the following by late 2007:

1. Implement full-fledged parliamentary oversight in its armed forces, as well as in the sector of strategic planning and state security.

2. Compensate ethnic minorities for capital and fortunes that has been confiscated over the past few decades by the Turkish states. It is important to note that the bulk of it refers to Greek and Armenian properties.

3. Take measures toward the progression of its Kurdish minority, according to the recommendations of the United Nations service on "internally displaced people." Moreover, it should clear areas filled with land mines and disband the "village guard system" whereby armed paramilitary forces often clash with Kurdish citizens.

4. Fully conform to the protocol for customs union that among other things calls for freedom of entrance into Turkish airports and ports for Cypriot planes and vessels.

Nowadays Europe is experiencing a very awkward situation in relation to the Turkish entrance path. The political and social climate is steadily moving against any further enlargement prospects. The referendums in France and the Netherlands in 2005 and the current electoral campaign of Nicolas Sarkozy in France, illustrate resentment against the prospect of Turkey becoming a member of the European Union. The so-called Franco-German axis finds it difficult to accept that should Turkey become a full member of the Union it will become the largest country in population in just a decade from now, according to demographic projections, and so will dictate a larger number of votes than any other member state. In essence, the political center of Europe will gravitate further to the East.

Furthermore, Turkey's entrance will further empower the Anglo-Saxon factor in the Union as it has been represented by Britain and on a transatlantic level by the United States. The assumption by many Europeans is that the Americans and the British support Turkey's entrance to ensure that an enlarged Europe is composed of antithetical forces, therefore undermining its ability to form its own military apparatus.

Turkey is experiencing a pre-election period this year, in which the Kemalist forces backed by the army and the Islamists aligned with Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan will compete over who is going to control the presidency of the Republic, one of the keystones of the Turkish secular state. The secularists or "generals" as the press often calls the armed forces and their allies is fearful of Erdogan's ambitions and the rising Islamic sentiment of the people. Turkish society is divided into three parts: secularists (army, state enterprises, diplomats, academics, and large capital figures), Islamists (small-medium sized businesses, unprivileged people from the Eastern part of the country, and farmers), and nationalists (people from the northern part of the country, industry workers, sects of academics and businessmen). The outcome of the above is hard to guess, especially after the assassination of the Turkish-Armenian journalist in Istanbul last month, presumably by a nationalist. It will take immense political skills for the Turkish political class to be able to either merge or balance these three different factors.

It is interesting to note at this point out the different foreign policy approaches these three groups have. The secularists are steadfast for entrance into the Union and are in the Western camp in general. The Islamists are fascinated by stronger ties with the Sunni powers of the Middle East and the world in general. The nationalists are keen on establishing a Turkish influence in Central Asia, the Caucasus, and the Balkans. The nationalists have often cooperated with the secularists in order to spread Turkish influence across Eurasia.

The European Union, by drafting its progress report, has given a heavy task to the Turkish leadership in order to join the European club. The report on pages 21-22 illustrates the important issue of the Kurdish minority and the problems that have been associated with it.  Many factors provide difficulties for the return of the internally displaced Kurdish descent citizens. The existence of a large number of personnel mines — 900,000 units. Also according to official data there are 57,601 local paramilitary forces in the Kurdish regions, which are often accused of harsh behavior against the citizens and human rights violations.

The European Commission has until late November 2007 to file its next report and take into consideration the progress — if any — made by Ankara's side. For the time being Turkey is simply not able to make spectacular reforms in its domestic societal and political scene due to the internal frictions that have developed and the rising anti-European mood that recent surveys have revealed. The Turkish Kemalist establishment has remained in place since Kemal Ataturk created the modern Turkish state in the mid 1920's. There are vested interests within the country that will lose their influence in a variety of sectors, especially the one of state security, should the Union's proposals be implemented. Also, member states such as Greece, Cyprus, and France — especially if Sarkozy becomes president — will look to stall accession negotiations.

In general the path toward Turkish entrance to the European Union has barely started. The recent enlargement rush that expanded the Union from 15 members to 27 has significantly weakened the capacity of Brussels to integrate new states especially one as large as Turkey. Moreover, internal disputes and the fact that it is an election year will deprive Turkey of the opportunity to balance its European aspirations and its everyday practicalities. Briefly, Turkey will remain in limbo for the time. The French and Greek elections this year along with a possible change of prime minister in Britain will impact on how Europe really views Turkey's place in the Union and whether can be achieved within the coming years.

*The full name of the European report is "European Commission DG for Enlargement, Progress Report, Brussels on 8/11/2006." It became a European Union Council decision on Dec. 11 after turbulent negotiations between member states.

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