Turkey’s EU prospects

In a tactic as old as politics itself, former prime ministers, once freed from the machinery of power, are gripped by the urge to speak out. Liberated from party ties, official government positions and fragile balances, they utter truths that they would never have considered divulging when in power. One of these, former Prime Minister Constantine Mitsotakis, has on occasion made blatant statements that continue to bother more than a few people. Yesterday, another former premier, Costas Simitis, from a dais at Cambridge University challenged the basics of Greek foreign policy and stated himself in favor of a special partnership between Turkey and the European Union. It was only expected that his statements would invite the ire of the PASOK party, which was quick to repeat its support of full EU accession for Turkey. PASOK obviously forgot the reasons why in 1999 the Simitis government had opposed accession – the Cyprus issue and Greek-Turkish relations were not at their best at that time. New Democracy is following a similar line: During Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis’s recent visit to Ankara, and despite the doubts and barbs shot at him by the opposition, he confirmed Greece’s position for continuing accession negotiations and encouraged Turkey’s democratic reforms, even if these are carried out due to pressure from the European Union. In Europe, however, the winds are not in Turkey’s sails, as Germany, France and Austria do not want to commit to more than a special partnership with Ankara, even though no one will say exactly what form this partnership will take. At a first glance, European leaders are finding this a less onerous proposal to put before their people. The possibility of a referendum on the new European constitutional treaty, which includes enlargement, has political leaderships on their guard. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has repeatedly stated that he wants to be a friend to Turkey, but that Turkey has no place in Europe. His counterproposal is for a Mediterranean Union – something Ankara sees merely as a way of softening the blow of France’s veto. Germany’s stance toward Turkey is similar, even though Chancellor Angela Merkel is taking well into account the dissatisfaction it would cause among the Turks living and voting in Germany. Faced with this uncertainty, Turkey is turning to popular policy reforms and is banking on the fact that its accession will serve the EU’s long-term strategic interests. But conditions in the European Union have changed and Greece is now at risk of causing a rift in European consensus and contributing to the uncontrollable enlargement of the bloc.