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Turkey defies EU with own accession agenda 6 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

EUobserver.com (Belgium)                                   Türkçe

By Mark Beunderman, Brussels

Turkey has announced a « new strategy » in its EU relations, turning its focus away from the official Brussels accession talks timetable and instead making reforms on the basis of its « own priorities and deadlines. » 

Ali Babacan, Turkish economy minister and chief negotiator with the EU, said on Friday (2 March) that Ankara will by April present a fresh plan in response to EU leaders’ decision last December to suspend eight out 35 chapters of Turkey’s membership negotiating book.

The EU’s December decision, taken as a sanction for Ankara’s position on the Cyprus issue, made Ankara realise that « the formal process of [accession] negotiations will be highly influenced by the political climate and [member states’] domestic considerations, » said Mr Babacan.

« This decision was faced with a strong feeling of frustration and huge disappointment of Turkish citizens – the feeling of being unwanted, » he told a European Policy Centre meeting.

« Now we have developed a new strategy, » the top negotiator stated.

« It will be on the basis of our own priorities and our own deadlines, » he indicated, stressing that Ankara would work towards fulfilling EU criteria in « all the chapters, including the chapters which have been suspended. »

Mr Babacan’s bullish announcement that Ankara – not Brussels – will from now on determine the pace and priorities of EU reforms comes as a challenge to the European Commission, which has the prerogative of monitoring progress and setting timetables in the accession talks.

A commission spokeswoman said however she sees « no conflicting positions here, » as Ankara is merely « setting up a plan for the reforms. »

Turkey also appears to be politically ignoring Brussels’ sanctions over the Cyprus issue by simply continuing to work on the eight chapters suspended by the EU.

« We cannot have our children drink milk with bacteria just because of the problem of Cyprus, » said Mr Babacan in an apparent reference to EU food safety standards.

Formal progress

Meanwhile, although Turkey seems to have lost faith in the official EU membership talks, the commission is trying to inject new impetus into the process.

Brussels wants to see four non-suspended accession chapters formally opened before June, with the German EU presidency aiming at « two or three. » The first chapter in line, on enterprise and industry, should be kicked off this month.

But the opening and closing of chapters has to be unanimously agreed by all 27 member states, with EU diplomats saying they could imagine Cyprus already making trouble over the enterprise chapter.

« We are not going to believe it before we see the actual progress, » Mr Babacan said.

Meanwhile, the eight chapters frozen in December will remain on hold until Turkey agrees to open up its ports and airports to trade from Cyprus – a move which the Turks are still only prepared to make if the EU lifts the isolation of Turkish Cypriots in the North of the divided island.

The EU last December agreed that it would work towards allowing direct trade with the Turkish Cypriot community, but Cyprus has in turn placed renewed conditions on this move in ongoing talks with the German presidency, EU officials said.

Nicosia makes trade via ports in Northern Cyprus dependent on the return of former Greek Cypriot inhabitants to the ghost town of Varosha – an issue which also emerged last autumn and which proved too difficult to resolve for EU diplomacy.

Will Turkey ever join ?

Despite the raft of problems surrounding EU accession, Mr Babacan remained largely optimistic about the chances of Turkey one day joining the union.

« There hasn’t been any leader in the EU who says that Turkey should be dropped out of the process and go somewhere else, » he said when asked about German chancellor Angela Merkel and French presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy opposing Turkish membership.

« Turkey now and Turkey seven years from now will be two different countries, » he added.

But he also acknowledged that even if Turkey is succesful in reforms, the EU goal could still be missed at the end of the road.

« Our process is unlike that of the 12 member states [which joined the EU in 2004] an open-ended process – which we don’t like, but that’s how it is. »

« At the end the decision will lie in the hands of the citizens, » he stated referring to possible referendums on Turkish accession in EU states down the line.

« Now there is one country which has said it will hold a referendum [France], but there could be more in the future, » he said.


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