Friday, November 7, 2008

EU Progress Report Released—Off the Bicycle It Seems

The EU's annual progress report on Turkey's progress toward accession revealed no big surprises from the draft copy the EU Commission released earlier. However, what will be surprising is a decision by AKP to use the laundry list of reforms in need of adoption and/or implementation seriously. Although, President Gül reaffirmed his commitment to the reform when speaking at the North-South Europe Economic Forum, it is unlikely AKP will move forward with much of the needed legislation until after local elections in March.

The reluctance of AKP to commit seriously to reforms has led to serious doubt of the party's liberal/reform credentials in some circles. While Euro-phile Gül is still popular with EU politicians and seemingly quite serious about the accession processs, Prime Minister Erdoğan has given many observers of Turkish politics reason to worry. The prime minister has frequently and most unproductively lambasted the EU, accusing EU politicians of double standards while paying little attention to the many reforms Turkey needs to make in order to be admitted to the EU—reforms that every other candidate country made before it. He is joined frequently in these attacks by Foreign Minister and EU Chief Negotiator Ali Babacan, raising questions as to which diplomatic path Turkey will take: Will it chart the course of Gül's reasoned diplomacy, or rather that mapped by the disastrously dangerous rhetoric of Erdoğan? (See Aug. 2 post.) Recent grumblings with the prime minister have grown louder, leading prominent critic Mehmet Altan to wonder if EU membership will ever be taken seriously by the ruling party or whether it will remain a tool used for political gamesmanship.
"As long as it lacks the necessary political and societal will, Turkey is like Alice in Wonderland; it has to run just to stay in place. And without making new reforms, it is not even possible to stay in place, that is to say, it lags behind its vested position. Thus, while it fails to protect the existing improvements, it also paves the way for the revival of old reflexes and viruses," Altan told Sunday's Zaman, offering the failure in policies against torture as an example of a revival of these old viruses.

"The Ankara criteria metaphor used by the prime minister is not so helpful because in Turkey internal dynamics have been very weak. Thus, there is need for an external dynamic, for a positive will from outside," Altan said.

"The EU bid has been a political choice and tool for the government, but this approach is not appropriate. Such an approach is also the reason behind the increase in torture and the fading of the light of hope. The EU issue should be handled as an issue of social transformation, so it should be kept away from political calculations. Once the government takes the EU issue as an issue of social transformation and comprehends the significance and depth of this transformation, then the rest will just remain as details that can somehow be sorted out," he added, suggesting that the government has been suffering from "Ankara-ization," moving closer to the status quo maintained by pro-establishment forces in the Turkish capital.
Fellow critic Barçin Yinanç concurs with Altan, but also wonders if the EU is equally content with the slow process of the reforms. Meanwhile, TDZ columnist Amanda Akçakoca is more forgiving of the EU, but also seriously questions AKP's politics, wondering how Erdoğan could have been elected "European of the Year" in 2004.

From Europe, an interesting comment to come out of the public discourse leading up to the report's release came from Joost Lagendijk, Co-Chair of the Turkish-EU Joint Parliamentary Commission. Most surely anathema to many Turks, Lagendijk has suggested he is in agreement with DTP's calls for more regional autonomy for the Kurdish southeast, expressing support the party's Democratic Autonomy Project.

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