Turkey’s EU Bid
In just eight days’ time, Turkey’s 25-year bid to become a full member of the European Union may be over. Accession talks with the EU broke down yesterday over Ankara’s refusal to open its ports to Cypriot vessels. If, by Dec. 8, this refusal has not been revoked, it is highly likely that for the first time in its history, Brussels will completely abandon negotiations for the accession of a new member. Such a development would bring quiet satisfaction in those European capitals, particularly Paris and Berlin, which have opposed Turkish membership on fundamentally racist grounds. Only the avowedly free-market Irish and British remain committed to Turkey’s dynamic 73 million population joining the 456 million in the 25 EU member countries.
Ankara has consistently failed to anticipate or counter the subtle maneuverings against it in many European chancelleries. Though some economic and social reforms have been made, its human rights record and its slow-moving and dubious civil courts have continued to offer ammunition to its opponents. Its Achilles heel, however, has always been Cyprus. Turkey’s long and dogged support for the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, (TRNC), created when Turkish troops intervened in 1974 after a pro-Greek Cypriot coup, has been an object lesson in diplomatic inflexibility. Only when the Turkish Cypriot population voted to rejoin the Greek part of the island did Ankara and Raul Dentktash, the veteran TRNC leader, accept reunion. But it was too late. On the eve of joining the EU in their own right, the Greek Cypriots in their own referendum overwhelmingly rejected reunification.
Actual negotiations for EU accession only began in 2005 but Turkey had been knocking on the door of Europe since the first government of Turgut ضzal in 1980. The formal application was first made in 1987. Turkish patience is legendary but so perhaps is ultimately its anger when that patience is exhausted. If this is the end of its EU ambitions, what is the country to do next? Europe may well remain its most important trading partner and in fact, a large proportion of the billions of dollars of inward investment in recent years was predicated upon EU membership. Will that money now remain in the country?
In the last decade Ankara has tried with mixed success to expand its relations and trade with the Turkic states of the former Soviet Union. Its relations with the Arab world have been cordial but sometimes clouded by suspicions that the Turkish military has a close relationship with their Israeli counterparts. The truce with the Kurds in the east may be breaking down. Ankara remains deeply disturbed by the de facto emergence of an autonomous Kurdish region in northern Iraq.
For almost 50 years after the creation of the Republic, Turkey lived largely by its own choice in relative economic and political isolation. Its return to the world economy 25 years ago was welcomed by both Europeans and Americans. Now the Europeans at least seem poised to withdraw the welcome mat. Does that mean that Turkey will turn in upon itself once again?
Arab News, 28 November 2006