Friday, May 23, 2008

Lines in the Sand

The Association Council is set to meet next week to discuss the current state of EU-Turkey relations and Foreign Minister Ali Babacan's attendance is still not decided. The Council meets at a ministerial level and includes the EU President. Babacan's indecision follows reported French attempts to remove the word "accession" from drafts of the position paper the EU is set to release after the meeting.

The recent French attempt to undermine Turkey's accession is not unprecedented. Before the European summit last December, President Sarkozy proposed a committee to which he referred as the "group of the wise." Ostensibly posed as a group to meet about the problems the EU might face in the future, the design was to bear influence on EU enlargement policy, thus undermining the work of the European Commission. Pro-Turkey EU politicians led by Barroso narrowed its mandate. While the group was still formed, it is not to address enlargement issues, much more the accession of specific countries. Nonetheless, memory of the event is strong and rumors are still flying among Turks and the Turkish press that the committee's decisions will negatively affect Turkish accession.

France has sent envoys to Ankara to reassure Turkey that it is not intent to block further membership talks, but Turkish suspicions run high. Another reason for Turkish skepticism is the French proposed Union for the Mediterranean, which Turkey thinks might be a veiled form of the 'second option' for Turkey that Sarkozy promised to French voters during last summer's elections. Angela Merkel made a similar proposal before her election, but later dismissed it and said that Germany's Christian Democrats were prepared to stand by past policies. The Union for the Mediterranean seems a reformulation of the Euro-Mediterranean process initiated in Barcelona in 1995, of which Turkey is a member. France insists that its invitation to Turkey and plans for the Union are unrelated, but Turkey is understandably uneasy about the offer. The French have proved a prime opponent to Turkish accession and Sarkozy's election and upcoming term as president of the European Union do not bode well for Turkey.

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