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Irrelevant Europe 20 décembre 2007

Posted by Acturca in Energy / Energie, EU / UE, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

The Wall Street Journal Asia (USA), 18 décembre 2007, p. 14

By Sinan Ulgen *, Istanbul

In an elaborate ceremony on Thursday in the Portuguese capital, European Union leaders signed the Lisbon Treaty that, among other institutional changes, creates a powerful foreign policy czar. Or so eurskeptics complain. But despite their fears that this « high representative » will erode national sovereignty, the EU looks destined to remain a dwarf in the international arena. As long as foreign affairs are subject to unanimity voting, even the most parochial national interests will override the search for consensus.

Take for example the looming crisis in Kosovo, which seems determined to declare independence from Serbia. This time the EU wants to do better in its own backyard than during the Balkan wars of the 1990s, when it was paralyzed in the face of ethnic cleansing. A clear EU majority, including the big countries, is in favor of recognizing Kosovo’s claim for statehood. But a small number of member states, led by tiny Cyprus, have so far blocked efforts to adopt a common EU policy on this point. They fear that Kosovo may set a precedent for secessionist constituencies in their own countries, such as the Turks in Cyprus.

The fact that the EU managed at a summit Friday to agree on sending an 1,800-strong mission of police officers, judges and customs officials to Kosovo was hailed as a breakthrough. And true, this mission was supposed to be part of the plan proposed by United Nations envoy Martti Ahtisaari, who recommended that the province be granted « independence supervised by the international community. » But even though deploying this force can be considered progress and might help keep the calm in Kosovo, this doesn’t mean that the EU now agreed to back Kosovo’s independence. Portugal’s Foreign Minister Jose Socrates, whose country holds the rotating EU presidency, admitted as much on Friday. Cyprus and the other dissenters remain unwilling to accept Kosovo’s independence. Hence the EU’s ability to influence the political process in this war-torn region remains limited.

The Kosovo problem is not unique. The EU’s fundamental foreign policy predicament is its propensity to fall hostage to national priorities. Germany, once the EU’s consensus-engine, is now the biggest obstacle to a common energy policy. Berlin fears that such a European approach would jeopardize its preferential energy relationship with Russia. The most notorious example of this new German unilateralism is the slated construction of the Baltic gas pipeline, which would circumvent Eastern Europe and link Russia directly to Germany.

Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic fear that the Baltic pipeline would give Russia undue political leverage. Moscow could cut gas supplies to these countries without affecting the delivery to Germany and the rest of Western Europe. Had there been a common EU energy policy, the construction of the Baltic pipeline would have been met with serious resistance.

As it stands, though, the EU remains a non-entity in the game of energy politics. It cannot even muster enough diplomatic muscle to get Turkmenistan to supply the Nabucco pipeline linking Turkey to Austria. The pipeline is designed to decrease Europe’s gas dependency on Russia. But instead of signing a deal with Europe, Turkmenistan continues selling a large share of its gas to Russia’s Gazprom. This only further increases the dominance of the Kremlin-controlled energy giant over Europe’s gas markets. The EU’s failure to co-opt Turkmenistan undermines the entire Nabucco project, which is currently limited to a single gas supplier — Azerbaijan.

France provides another illustration of this growing EU ailment. Paris has always been an expert in using the EU for its own national interests. The Common Agricultural Policy, which condemns the EU to subsidize French farmers, is perhaps the best-known example of how France gets the EU to do what it wants. More recently, it is using its veto power to prevent the EU from doing what it rejects.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy believes Turkey has no place in Europe and has done his best to sabotage the accession talks. Instead of full-fledged membership, he believes Ankara should be offered only a « privileged partnership » — a term coined by Angela Merkel. The German chancellor was the first leader of a major EU country to voice her disquiet about Turkish membership. But Mr. Sarkozy has since taken over the anti-Turkey baton. He now wants his EU partners to acknowledge his opposition to Ankara. In a first victory, France managed to block all direct references to Turkey’s potential accession in Friday’s EU summit conclusions. The EU’s past commitments to Turkey and the fact that most member states support its membership is of no relevance to the French president. The message is that his national priorities should become EU policy.

The consequences of Europe’s atavistic policy reversal have left their mark in Turkey. Its once sizeable pro-European constituency is slowly becoming extinct. When at the end of last year the EU decided to suspend accession talks due to Turkey’s failure to open its ports to Greek-Cypriot ships, the Turkish public hardly noticed. Ankara’s obstructionism in this case was very much the outcome of a rational calculation: The domestic political costs of concessions to Cyprus were simply judged to outweigh the benefits of an increasingly uncertain EU membership.

The same goes for Article 301 of the Turkish penal code, which limits the freedom of expression. For Brussels, this law is one of Turkey’s most symbolic political shortcomings. Yet Ankara has no immediate plans to amend it due to considerable domestic opposition. In the past, the carrot of EU membership helped build coalitions to overcome resistance to sensitive reforms, for example when Turkey lifted the death penalty in 2002. Now that the EU’s credibility is seriously dented, this carrot has lost much of its former attraction.

And Turkey’s disinterest in Europe is not part of a larger anti-Western backlash. To the contrary. After a few years of Turkish discontent with Washington over its Iraq policy, Ankara now looks to improve its relationship with the U.S. A meeting in early December between President George W. Bush and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan heralded the start of closer cooperation between the two countries, particularly on the core issue of fighting Kurdish terrorism.

The magic of the EU used to be its ability to forge a common vision, transcending narrowly defined national interests. That magic is vanishing as the resurgence of national priorities undermines the EU’s reputation as a credible and reliable actor.

* Mr. Ulgen is chairman of the Center for Economics and Foreign Policy Studies (EDAM).


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