Vigilance regarding Turkey still crucial

The stance of France’s president-elect Nicolas Sarkozy as regards Ankara’s bid to join the European Union has created some discomfort in Athens, as well as in the other EU states which have heartily backed the accession of this mostly Muslim state into the union. Nevertheless it is clear that any immediate developments are unlikely. First of all, everyone is awaiting the climax of a domestic crisis – the head-on clash between the Islamist-backed administration of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the country’s secular military regime. In view of this, no European leader is likely to undertake any kind of major initiative toward Turkey – particularly as general elections are planned for July 22. It is interesting to note that the domestic strife in Turkey has resulted in the postponement of a planned meeting between Turkish and EU officials at the beginning of June. Officially, the issue of Turkey’s EU prospects will now be dealt with in October, when the European Commission is due to issue a report on the country’s progress in fulfilling EU-oriented criteria, and possibly in the interim during unofficial meetings. In view of this, there is plenty of time for Greece to shape a new policy opposite its neighbor, taking these new developments into consideration. On a practical level, a full revision of the EU’s policy toward Turkey would be exceptionally difficult, if not impossible, as there are certain member states which would object strongly. A «special relationship» between Ankara and the EU, which is being proposed by Mr Sarkozy and heartily backed by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, is only viable if Turkey itself embraces this option, for its own reasons. The Greek government does not back this prospect because it would allow Ankara to gain all the benefits of EU membership without obliging it to cooperate with Greece subject to the principles of good neighborly relations. The Cypriot government has more or less the same stance. The likeliest scenario is that Sarkozy will impede Ankara’s course toward EU accession, hindering the opening of new chapters in Turkish accession negotiations with EU officials. So far, the only chapter that has been concluded successfully is the one on science and research. Four new chapters are currently under discussion by a «working group» but it is doubtful whether this process will progress much further. The entrance of Sarkozy onto the European political stage will prompt an essential slowdown, if not total paralysis, of Turkey’s European-bound course. This calls for alertness from Greece’s political leadership, which always thought that the European Commission would be able to solve its longstanding problems with Turkey.