Sarkozy shows the red card

Last December Turkey succeeded in overcoming a self-imposed obstacle to its European Union path following Ankara’s refusal to implement a Customs Union protocol with Cyprus. The latest challenge comes from France, provided of course that Nicolas Sarkozy wins the presidential election. His statement that Turkey is an Asian country with no place in Europe changes the framework that has so far shaped the policy of European governments. In a word, Turkish EU membership is not dependent on the fulfillment of certain criteria. Rather, it’s a matter of geopolitics. Naturally, France alone cannot change EU policy and freeze Ankara’s accession negotiations. But it can do what Austria failed to do because it lacked leverage – namely to express and mobilize the undercurrent of opinion that hopes to derail Turkey’s EU aspirations and relegate them to a special relationship. So far, the opponents of Ankara’s bid have avoided the sharpness of Sarkozy’s words because of US pressure or to avoid confrontation with Ankara. Growing reluctance toward Turkish membership is fueled by its poor progress in fulfilling the Community acquis. The latest crisis simply serves to confirm the incompatibility between the Turkish system and EU values. A coup would leave it’s EU hopes high and dry. EU enlargement chief Olli Rehn, an advocate of Ankara’s bid, has repeatedly called on the Turkish army not to interfere in the process. What is hardest to understand is not Ankara’s stance but the EU’s readiness to open its doors to Turkey. When the issue was raised, it sidestepped the question of whether Turkey really has a place in the Union. But this question epitomizes Europe’s key strategic dilemmas: the limits of enlargement, the level of integration, the aim of unification and the very nature of the EU venture.