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Turkey and Europe: Coming apart ? 5 mai 2006

Posted by Acturca in Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

The Economist

May 4th 2006

 ONLY last year, things were going so well for Turkey that even its best   friends could hardly believe their eyes. The promise of European Union  membership had led to an investment boom. A party with Islamist roots was showing that Muslim piety and liberal democracy were compatible. The prospect of joining the EU had spurred reform, with happy results for civil liberty and free speech. Although Turko-scepticism persisted in parts of Europe, there were grounds for hoping that Turkey would become more palatable to the EU, even as the union grew more attractive to the Turks.

Above all, it seemed that demons that had plagued Turkey were being exorcised. One was inflation, now decisively beaten back. Another was the assumption that only a vigilant army—wielding power quietly, but ready to do so openly—could keep a secular republic intact. So it has been good to see devout politicians and republican generals co-existing.

Sadly, some of the euphoria over Turkey's march towards Europe has now evaporated. One European commissioner fears a possible “train wreck” in Turkey's relations with the EU, with Cyprus as the most likely obstacle on the track. The ruling Justice and Development (AK) party is no longer such a good advertisement for moderate Islam. By tolerating corruption and nominating cronies to top jobs, it has fuelled suspicions that it wants to concentrate power in a clique. Also worrying—to those who liked the AK party's caution—is a new leaning towards a more openly Islamist foreign policy.

Meanwhile, a resurgence of Kurdish terrorism has drawn a heavy-handed response. Reforms that helped to win Turkey its date with Europe have been reversed. Only months after it became possible to make speeches or broadcasts in Kurdish without fear of prosecution, Turkey may be slipping back to the bad old days, when people were jailed, or worse, because of the language they spoke or the ideas they aired, however peacefully.

A fork in the road

The struggle to combat terror has certainly forced plenty of Western countries to sacrifice some liberties in the name of security. But in Turkey combating terror has often been an excuse to repress peaceful representatives of any cause or culture that a few extremists promote through violence: the equivalent, in western European terms, of locking up anybody who advocates a united Ireland or Basque independence, even if they eschew violence.

Last year's optimism about Turkey may have been overblown. But the positive energy generated by the surge in Turkey's European hopes has not been completely exhausted. Those hopes can still be fulfilled if everybody with an interest in a European future for Turkey acts responsibly. The AK party, in particular, has a choice: it can slide backwards and perhaps flirt more openly with Islamism; or it can play the European card even harder, pressing on with reforms and demanding that its European partners show similar goodwill.

For this second choice to work, the EU's leaders must be readier to reward Turkey when it takes political risks. Instead, too many are making clear that they do not really want Turkey ever to join. A particular bugbear is Cyprus. Turkish-Cypriots took a risk by accepting, in 2004, the UN plan to re-unify Cyprus. It galls them to see the Greek-Cypriots, who rejected the plan, enjoying the fruits of EU membership when Turkish-Cypriots remain isolated. Besides their blunt insistence on Turkey ending its ban on Greek-Cypriot ships and aircraft, EU governments should look for ways to reassure the Turks—and to bring the Turkish-Cypriots out of the cold.

Turks fear that too many in the EU would rejoice if Turkey were to stumble on its way to Europe. That fear encourages them to look in other directions. Yet the risk of losing Turkey as a prime example of a liberal, Western-oriented, Muslim democracy that works is huge. Europe's leaders must do whatever they can to bring Turkey back on course


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