jump to navigation

Mutual incomprehension between Turkey and EU 29 août 2006

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

Financial Times (UK), Aug. 27, 2006

By Vincent Boland

The European Union information office in Istanbul, on a dingy little street just off Taksim Square in the heart of the city, looks and feels more like a second-hand clothing store than the showcase representation of Europe in Turkey. One of the gold stars in the EU symbol above the door is about to fall on to the pavement, and the street – Mete Caddesi – is darkened even on the sunniest days by the shadow of a gigantic five-star hotel, which discourages passers-by.

One recent morning the office contained precisely one bored security man, some uninteresting brochures about aspects of the EU, and a handful of blinking computer terminals. Nobody was seeking information, and there was precious little information to hand. As Cengiz Aktar, an academic at Bahcesehir University who champions Turkey’s entry to the EU, puts it: « Istanbul is the economic and intellectual capital of this country, and the fact that the EU should be represented by this dirty and badly painted building is simply appalling. »

The office’s state of disrepair is tellingly indicative of a wider problem in the increasingly terse and chilly relationship between Turkey and the EU, 10 months after both sides began a formal accession process aimed at getting the Turks into the union in a decade or so. With Turkey heading into a year of elections and some EU members opposed to it ever joining, the two sides are deadlocked on nearly every issue and seem reluctant to add momentum to the talks any time soon.

There is « a staggering degree of uninterest » about the EU within the Turkish government, says a European diplomat in Ankara. This is especially noticeable in the hardening official attitude towards Brussels, in an unwillingness to offer further compromises on Cyprus or to pursue more civil rights reforms at home. It is also reflected in public opinion. Some polls show support for membership may be below 50 per cent, down from 75 per cent two years ago.

Much of the blame for this fall in public and political support for the EU accession project is ascribed to the deadlock over Cyprus, where Turkey believes Brussels has failed to honour a pledge to lift the economic and political blockade of the Turkish Cypriot community. But there are other reasons, too, not least the rising and increasingly open hostility in several European countries to Turkey’s accession.

Ahmet Evin, director of the Istanbul Policy Centre, a think-tank at Sabanci University, says the notion of « enlargement fatigue » prevalent in some European capitals – that the EU cannot take any more members – seems specifically aimed at Turkey. « Turkey looms large in this idea of enlargement fatigue, and it is communicated in an increasingly unpleasant manner, especially in Austria and France, » he says.

Other observers say some of the blame for the draining of momentum from the accession process lies in Ankara. While other candidate countries have politically well-connected diplomatic and negotiating teams in Brussels, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator – Ali Babacan, a talented but relatively junior government minister – has hardly visited the European Commission since he was appointed over a year ago. Moreover, he still has his other, time-consuming job at home, as treasury minister and Turkey’s chief liaison with the International Monetary Fund.

Kirsty Hughes, an associate fellow of the London School of Economics who follows the Turkey-EU relationship closely, says: « Where is Ali Babacan? Surely he should be co-ordinating the political line on all this? The fact that he is in Ankara and not banging on doors in Brussels suggests that Turkey is not taking the political challenge [of EU entry] very seriously. » Mr Babacan has declined requests from the FT for an interview.

Diplomats say they have noticed a growing sense of disillusionment with the EU in Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development party, a diverse political movement that has its roots in political Islam. The party’s leaders, especially Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister, had looked to the EU to back it in its attempts to broaden civil rights in Turkey, notably in easing the restrictions on the wearing of the Muslim headscarf.

This has not happened. The European Court of Human Rights has upheld the republic’s tough secular stance on the headscarf. Mr Erdogan was shocked by that decision, and it has coloured his view of the usefulness of EU membership to Turkey, just as some EU member states are questioning Muslim Turkey’s credentials as a European country.

This mutual incomprehension is a recipe, at the very least, for inertia, some observers say. It is astonishing that the two sides, who have been courting each other for 40 years, should still seem so far apart even as they contemplate a permanent alliance. Prof Evin says: « Neither Turkey nor the EU understands the other side well enough to know what to expect from the membership process. »


No comments yet — be the first.

Votre commentaire

Entrez vos coordonnées ci-dessous ou cliquez sur une icône pour vous connecter:

Logo WordPress.com

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte WordPress.com. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Photo Facebook

Vous commentez à l’aide de votre compte Facebook. Déconnexion /  Changer )

Connexion à %s

%d blogueurs aiment cette page :