NEWS

Turkey and the Euro elections

Euro-Turkish relations are among the main preoccupations of European capitals these days in the countdown to Euro elections on June 13. In Greece, the issue will certainly be on the agenda of political parties, although not necessarily at the top. Here, political leaders, as well as the majority of citizens, are convinced that it would be beneficial if Ankara gains the date for EU accession talks it has been seeking, as this would contribute toward the further improvement of bilateral relations. The same does not apply in other European capitals, especially not in those which, to a great extent, determine the fate of the 25-strong bloc. In Paris for example, the government’s center-right parties cannot justify such a decision to their voters. Judging from their reiterated statements, Foreign Minister and former European Commissioner Michel Barnier, former Prime Minister Alain Juppe and former President Valery Giscard d’Estaing all appear to be decidedly against Turkey’s EU accession, mindful of the reluctance of citizens to allow a large Muslim country into the Union and fearing a fresh defeat at the Euro elections. Meanwhile, many of France’s allies, Greece included, hope that President Jacques Chirac will carry out all the necessary political and diplomatic maneuvers after the European elections to transform the current «no» into a «yes.» The situation is somewhat better in Berlin, without being entirely clear. Chancellor Gerhard Schroder’s government has reputedly promised Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan that he will do all he can to secure a date for Turkey – an initiative rejected both by the German center-right opposition and the majority of right-wing parties across Europe. German diplomats believe that Ankara has implemented legislative reforms which bring it closer to European convergence, and so they are well disposed toward the Turks. On the other hand, not even the Germans are satisfied with what Turkey promises to bring to the EU, even it joins after 10 or 15 years. For example, the Turkish Constitution may forbids women from wearing headscarves in certain places, but Turkish customs and traditions dictate something else. So, politicians in Berlin concede that it will be decades before Turkey adapts to the European system of values. Further, they do not see good prospects for Turkey’s economic convergence with the European Union average, which has fallen following the recent accession of 10 new countries. But Turkey’s population – currently in excess of 70 million – also poses a problem for the long term. In a few decades, it will have the largest population in the EU, and thus also be entitled to a corresponding proportion of the union’s support funds. In other words, as the largest EU member, Turkey will play a key role in decision-making for Europe.