Sunday, July 27, 2008

What Will the EU Do In Case of Closure? Will Pragmatism Prevail?

The following brilliant analysis/speculation of the EU's response to AKP closure comes from Amanda Akcakoca in Sunday's Zaman.
Turkey's membership negotiations are already in trouble, and even without this closure case there would be very little good to put in the commission's 2008 Progress Report (due to be published in the autumn). There are serious question marks over Ankara's commitment to EU related reforms; major problems still remain on freedom of expression; very worrying signals that backsliding it taking place on issues of human rights and minority rights; increase in torture and maltreatment; and the military continues to play a completely unacceptable role in political life. In this light and given that in countries like France, Germany and Austria, opposition to full Turkish membership is strong, it would seem to be the easiest thing in the world for the EU to suspend the negotiations, making the whole problem of full Turkish membership disappear. This would be the end of Turkey's membership project, as it would be a near impossible task to ever get 27 member states to agree to reopen the talks. However, at the same time it would be delivering the ultimate gift to those who are opposed to Turkey's transformation in Ankara and elsewhere.This, of course, leaves the EU with a dilemma. As Commissioner Olli Rehn has stressed, it is unthinkable that the EU can continue with business as usual with Turkey if the AKP is banned. However at the same time it is very unlikely that the commission will recommend an "official" suspension of talks and it is also difficult to believe that there would be one-third of member states (nine) ready to go against the commission's recommendation and support a suspension of this nature. Turkey is already in a very precarious position and the EU should not act in a way that will add to the instability. Rather, the EU needs to put itself in a position where it can act as a tool to help Turkey through this difficult period -- given that there are many people in Turkey from many different walks of life who are counting on the EU to do just that.

Of course Turkey's relationship with the EU is going to pay a price for what has happened, but because it is also in the EU's own strategic interest to keep Turkey in its "orbit" and thereby able to maintain some leverage on Turkey, the suspension of talks may well take the form of an unofficial "rupture" that would give Turkey and the EU a timeout during which time Turkey will probably have early elections. This sort of break in talks would not require "unanimity" to get things moving again, but at the same time Turkey could be required to meet some "pre-conditions" such as a new constitution or significant judicial reform. Nevertheless, the risks are still high, as Turkey many never meet any of the preconditions and the negotiations could remain stalled for a very long time. But at least then the EU would have removed the ball from its own court and put it back in Turkey's. This response could hardly be described as "soft." This is not the first time the EU has had such a dilemma with Turkey. Another crisis situation at the end of 2006 came about when Turkey refused to extend its EU customs union to Greek Cyprus, something that it is legally obliged to do. At that point there was also much talk of suspending negotiations, but finally it was decided to instead freeze the eight negotiating chapters linked to the customs union. Turkey had three years to resolve the issue. To date there has been no change.

The EU is not in the habit of creating instability in its own neighborhood, and so sometimes acts in a way that is perceived as bending its own rules. The case of Serbia is a good example. Following Kosovo's declaration of independence and the catastrophe this caused in Belgrade, the EU knew it needed to keep Serbia from derailing by putting it on a strong EU track. They therefore offered Belgrade a new agreement, setting it on an EU path without Serbia having to comply with all the pre-conditions. There was objection from some member states, but at the end of day the long-term stability and prosperity of the country was at stake. Before the elections on May 11, EU foreign ministers set aside reservations about the failure of Serbia to arrest key war crimes suspects and signed the new agreement. It sent the message that Europe likes Serbia, which was a successful ploy. Instead of embracing nationalism and isolation, voters gave Boris Tadic's party the most seats in Parliament and there is now a pro-EU ruling coalition. But the EU had to bend its own rule to get the result. Turkey has already lost a lot over the last six months. According to State Minister for the Treasury Mehmet Şimşek at least $20 billion, as the markets have rollercoasted. Turkey's image has also been severely damaged in the outside world both by the closure case of the AKP and by the ongoing Ergenekon scandal. The issue now is how Turkey will overcome the possible outcomes of the case without democracy and stability in the country being further injured. As in Serbia, the EU needs to set aside differences between member states and put Turkey's stability and prosperity at the fore. This is why the EU will show Turkey "tough love" and act in a very pragmatic fashion -- don't expect the ultranationalists and Kemalists to like it, though!
For full article, click here.

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