The 104 pages on Turkey’s European Union progress (or lack thereof) from EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle represent the kind of school report which children would rather not show their parents. Its examination of the 35 “chapters” Ankara needs to reach agreement on to join the EU was a damning indictment of its failure to meet European standards in almost every area.
The document, published in late October, detailed deficiencies in freedom of speech and religion, minority rights, constitutional reform, questionable behavior by the police and an attitude toward women’s equality that talked the talk but failed to halt the rise in honor killings and forced marriages of girls in their early teens, especially in the east and southeast.
Perhaps conscious of the need to throw in a few sentences that could be shown to mum and dad with a smile, many of the most savage sections conclude with the somewhat bizarre observation that “overall some progress is being made.”
The report’s most positive part concerned the economic environment, which Füle’s team acknowledged had vastly improved. But at a time when Greece, Ireland, Portugal and Spain (and maybe soon Italy) are in deep financial and economic trouble, the report could come to no other conclusion. Despite a proud history that includes Euclid and Archimedes, the Greeks have shown they can’t add up — estimating the size of the budget deficit is one of the country’s bigger growth industries. Dublin’s initial insistence that everything was under control now looks like a Guinness-fuelled Irish joke. The governments of Portugal and Spain are paying more to raise money than at any time since the eurozone was founded.
With an economy looking at 11 percent growth this year and a banking sector immune to the catastrophes suffered by reckless American and European banks these past two years, little wonder the Turks can afford to feel superior. Ankara feels justifiably aggrieved that countries like Romania and Bulgaria (where corruption is a national sport) have been positively dragged into the EU club. The truth, of course, is that the major reason for accelerating their entry was to prevent them from falling back into Moscow’s sphere of influence.
For Turkey, failure to resolve the Cyprus issue is blocking talks on 18 of the 35 EU accession chapters, while France has unilaterally stalled another five. There are rumblings that a hint of movement may be imminent on Cyprus. The European Commission is said to have proposed talks on the energy and justice chapters in exchange for Ankara’s opening one of its ports and airspace to Cypriot shipping and aviation by the first week of December. Turkey’s acceptance of the secret deal is allegedly conditional on allowing international flights into Northern Cyprus, as well as direct trade with the self-declared republic. Officially in Turkey, the proposal doesn’t exist. While implementation of such an agreement could be trumpeted as success, the fallout of a failure could hurt the government’s chances in next June’s elections.
What the leadership is very happy to assert, however, is that keeping Turkey out of the EU is Europe’s loss. “As long as we are not a member of the EU, the EU will not become a global actor,” was Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an’s assessment of the EU report. To President Abdullah Gül, speaking to the Chatham House think tank in London, membership was not a matter of domestic Turkish politics. Turkey is taking a strategic view, looking 20, 30, even 50 years ahead, he said. Lower down the political food chain, Egemen Bagis, Turkey’s chief negotiator, claimed grandiosely that the EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU.
With the exception of comments on press freedom (Gül would like more of it, Erdo?an says it is not limitless and Bagis thinks it already exists), much of the reaction from Ankara to the EU report has been in similar-sounding generalizations. The report itself was packed with specific accusations in many areas, citing examples, although it too occasionally threw in unsupported generalities similar to those trotted out by the Turkish political establishment. Füle concluded that “despite overall progress in 2009, we are concerned that Turkey’s accession process is losing its momentum. The key to changing this is primarily with Turkey.” Ah, that word ‘overall’ again. Despite the sugar coating, mum and dad are unlikely to be fooled.
PETER GRIMSDITCH is Executive’s