Athens should demand the obvious

A decision on December 17 to allow Turkey to begin accession negotiations will be a landmark both for Turkey and the European Union. No other candidate member state has created so many divisions between member states, led to so much pressure being exerted by the United States or so much debate among the European public. Never before have so many issues been raised or so much diplomatic effort been exerted by all the parties concerned. Turkey is indeed like no other previous candidate for membership. It is a country which, once it has joined the EU, will have the largest population of any member state and therefore bring the greatest weight to bear on formulating and making decisions. It will cost the EU budget as much as the entire enlargement that took place last May with the entry of 10 new member states; it will move the EU’s borders over to the Caucasus and the Middle East, bringing a new factor into Europe’s political culture. If Turkey does not stay on a European track, it could slide either into fundamentalism or absolute military rule. Ankara seems to be sticking to its course toward Europe while trying to impose its own terms, as is apparent from its refusal to recognize the Cypriot Republic, which, after Turkey’s accession talks begin, will be in a position to judge and monitor progress in reforms in Turkey. Ankara is refusing to recognize one of the EU’s 25 member states even while seeking approval for its own course toward EU membership. This diplomatic paradox is a clear indication of the way Turkey defines its adaptation to the EU’s acquis communautaire. Several European countries, particularly France and Austria, and the German Christian Democrat opposition party, are trying to work out a privileged partnership or some other kind of expanded association agreement (between the EU and Turkey) so as to avert full accession. Concern over the escalating activity on the sidelines shows that the European Union is trying to strike a balance between the strategic option of giving a European character to a secular Muslim country that could facilitate the energy trade and act as a bridge to the Arab world, and the fear of a possible alteration in its own character. Within this complex political and diplomatic environment, Athens has the right and the obligation to support giving Turkey a date to begin accession talks with the EU, setting its own terms and conditions and claiming what is self-evident in European affairs – respect for international law and Europe’s value system. (1) Karolos Papoulias served as foreign minister for PASOK (1985-9).