Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When In Spain . . .

AFP Photo from El Mundo

Prime Minister Erdogan's state visit to Spain, which holds the European Council Presidency until May, smacked of much of the same rhetoric he has used in past meetings with European leaders. Selling Turkey in Spain, Zapatero focused on the benefits of Turkish accession to Europe in terms of geopolitics, including its role as a potential "bridge to the Islamic World and the Middle East." The Prime Minister talked much less about Europe's benefit to Turkey, and I have yet to see a report in which Erdogan linked the EU process with Turkish democratization, something I wrote on Sunday was critical to Turkey's successful accession. Sadly, what Europeans saw was much more of the same.

Spanish leaders, including Spanish President José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero, have been the most vocal in supporting Turkish accession amidst talk of "privileged partnership" and social/cultural/geographic concerns from conservatives in big states like France and Germany, and smaller, much more culturally conservative states like Austria. The Spanish newspaper El Mundo ran a Europa Press story with a headline reading, "Erdogan denounces the 'change of rules' for Turkish accession to the European Union."

A reporter from El País featured an interview with Erdogan (in Spanish), a rare opportunity afforded to foreign press, in which the Prime Minister asserts that Turkey is being subject to different criteria for accession than other memberships and that these criteria were not conveyed at the start of negotiations. Erdogan does not specify as to just what these criteria are, and the tone of defensiveness runs throughout the interview with a quite sympathetic reporter who writes Erdogan did not show his famous temper or impatience in response to any of the questions. However, the Prime Minister does little to win new friends either. The most confrontational statement came when asked about his frustration with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Erdogan said he would have good discussions with both leaders only to find things different later. Asked if the leaders said one thing only to do another later, President Sarkozy answered that this was indeed the case.

During a stop in Sevilla to accept an award related to the Spain-Turkey sponsored UN Alliance of Civilizations, Prime Minister Erdogan had a shoe thrown at him. The Prime Minister has apparently drawn demonstrators throughout his trip, most reported to have assembled to protest policy toward the Kurds.

UPDATE I (3/5) -- Zapatero has announced that he would like to open the energy chapter currently informally blocked by Cyprus, in addition to three others.

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