Starting political dialogue with procedural weapons

On October 20, when detailed EU accession negotiations get underway in earnest, Turkey will take its first steps into the new era. It is clear that its course will not be judged so much by any progress on Turkey’s part as by political realities in Europe. The initial, exploratory stage in the negotiations, which will last a year, will comprise a detailed comparison of Turkish legislation with the corresponding EU legislation to establish at which points the former must be brought into line with the latter. Although the negotiations officially start when that stage is complete, on those of the 35 chapters where the discrepancy between Turkish and the EU laws is minimal, formal negotiations can start immediately. The first chapter to be examined is that of research and technology, a fairly innocuous field, to be followed by that of education. The essence of the negotiations is elsewhere, of course. For a start, Turkey will not negotiate with the European Commission, but with the member states, which will thus be able to keep a constant eye on the progress, not only of the formalities, but also of the political substance of each individual chapter and Turkey’s overall progress toward the EU. But the decisive factor in this process will always be politics. It helps that the completion of each chapter requires a unanimous decision by the member states, and that there is provision and specific mechanisms for the EU to postpone the negotiations. Customs union One obvious example is the chapters relating to transportation and free movement of goods, which touch directly on the customs union between the EU and Turkey and which Ankara has refused to implement in the case of Cyprus. The EU has notified Ankara that it will not open those chapters until it sees the full implementation of the customs union, including free access to Turkish ports by ships flying under the flag of Cyprus. Yet Turkey is still maneuvering to avoid this, and is now attempting to link the lifting of what its sees as restrictions on the Turkish breakaway state in northern Cyprus, thus shifting the pressure from Ankara to Nicosia. When the time comes, Nicosia and Athens must enforce the implementation of the customs union, as it is also clear that, if there is a major hitch, heavy pressure will be brought to bear on them to «overlook» the Turkish stance and permit the negotiations to be completed. The same applies to every other chapter of special interest to the Greek side. Naturally, as developments so far have shown, this will not be at all easy when Greece and Cyprus are up against the great powers of the EU. Essentially it is a question of politics. The negotiating framework, the basic text on which the negotiations are to be built, already bristles with warnings and threats to Ankara, and many capitals reacted along similar lines immediately after the decision was announced last Monday. So Turkey has seen itself being reminded that the negotiations may be interrupted at any moment, that they may fail, that in order to join it almost has to stop being Turkey, and that even if it behaves perfectly, it may still find itself up against resolutions from various member states, if the EU has not already closed the door, claiming that it cannot absorb Turkey. While for Greece and Cyprus all these may be useful tools for building what is in their eyes a more «civilized» Turkey, for their originators (chiefly the French and Germans), they are tools for very different recipients. Their target is public opinion in their own countries. Besides, the decision on Turkey’s accession was made long ago by their present political leaders, going along with the British and Germans, who have always been firmly in favor of Turkey’s candidacy. But they took care to have an adequate arsenal in case the climate in Europe becomes extremely negative. Criteria reformulated For example, 2007 will be a tough year for Ankara, at least until the presidential elections in France. It will be interesting to see what stance is taken by the hitherto anti-Turkish Christian Democrats of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy, the aspiring successor to French President Jacques Chirac. As to the numerous criteria for Turkey’s progress, the foremost of which is its genuine, complete democratization, the merest glance reveals that most, if not all, had in some form or another been set as criteria for starting talks about starting negotiations. Then a favorable wind blew for Turkey, and the same criteria were reformulated as criteria for starting negotiations. Now the same criteria have been reformulated as criteria for the successful outcome of the negotiations.