Europe’s politicians discover Turkey

The launch of Turkey’s European Union membership negotiations on October 3 is expected to serve as the main focus of discussions at two key upcoming EU meetings. Permanent representatives from member states (COREPER) will meet on August 24 and, just over a month later, there will be a meeting of the Council of Foreign Ministers on October 3. Topping the agenda for both is the question of whether Turkey should be allowed to start talks with the European Union before recognizing Cyprus, an EU member. Last week, France’s prime minister and its foreign minister both said that recognition of the island must be a condition for the start of EU talks with Ankara. Reports yesterday said that France has sent a memorandum to all EU member states reiterating this position. Austria and Denmark, as well as the Christian Democratic party (CDU) in Germany, share France’s concerns. Angela Merkel’s conservatives, the front-runner in Germany’s forthcoming general election, and the Left Party, fronted by former Social Democratic chairman Oskar Lafontaine, have both expressed their objection to Turkish accession. As the expected opening of accession talks approaches, apprehension over letting Turkey into the European club is growing. This is no paradox. So far, Europe has tackled Turkey on a theoretical level; but now it has to deal with it face to face. This is not about putting a few lines together in deft diplomatic language. Nor is it about «other people’s problems» inviting words of comfort. The EU, and each member separately, now has to deal with Turkey’s maneuvers and its tendency to breach international law; in other words, common sense is called for. Ankara has also found itself treading a new landscape. The Turkish government can no longer depend on US or British help to affect EU decisions on issues that do not have an impact on EU member states. Turkish officials must learn to negotiate with these countries over issues that concern both. And it can no longer afford to overcome obstacles with American support or by invoking its history and size. The EU finally sees that tolerating Ankara’s particularities can damage its credibility. For its part, Ankara is beginning to realize that disparity between words and deeds is not the safest way to Union membership.