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Turks delight in showing strengths to EU 16 mai 2010

Posted by Acturca in Middle East / Moyen Orient, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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Financial Times (UK), May 16, 2010

By David Gardner in Ankara

Europe day, which this year marks the 60th anniversary of the Schuman declaration that set Europe on its trundling course towards union, was celebrated with some effusion last week in Turkey – at least publicly. In Istanbul, a suspension bridge across the Bosphorus was lit up in the blue and yellow colours of the EU flag. In Ankara, the EU and omnipresent Turkish flags were knotted together around lampposts.

The bunting speaks more of protocol and a brittle politesse, however, than Turkey’s fading conviction that its effort to join the EU, stuck in a mire of Euro-diffidence, is really destined to prosper.

A dynamic and growing economy, a constitutional revolution expanding democratic rights and an activist foreign policy establishing Turkey as a regional power have imbued Turks with a new self-confidence. But are they turning their backs on the EU?

Much has been made of the purported « neo-Ottomanism » of foreign policy under Ahmet Davutoglu, the new foreign minister, and the new coolness towards Europe of the ruling and neo-Islamist Justice and Development party (AKP) of Recep Tayyip Erdogan the prime minister. On the face of it, Turkey is playing hard to get. Of the 100 trips Mr Davutoglu made in his first year, 46 were in Europe; most of the rest were to the Middle East and neighbouring countries. « AKP people feel more comfortable in Damascus than Rome », says Hakan Yilmaz of Bosphorus University. « The new elites want the best of both worlds. »

There are a number of reasons for the turn eastwards, none of them to do with the re-creation of empire. During the cold war, Turkey’s role within Nato was to guard the eastern marches. On its end, the Balkans, central Asia and the Caucasus, and the broader Middle East reopened as a natural region of influence for Turkey. This is being driven by interests more than ideology. Turkey has also just opened more than 30 new embassies in Africa and Latin America. Aircraft from Istanbul to all points of Asia are full. This is not the return of the Ottomans but a commercial comeback – timed to pick up the slack from recession in the EU.

Turkey sees itself as a regional power as well, and is determined to show the EU two things: that it has options and, unlike the EU, it knows how to deploy « soft power » in Europe’s Middle Eastern backyard. In short, that it is an asset. « Turkey is using the transformative power of the European Union, which the EU itself appears to have lost, » says Ayhan Kaya of Istanbul’s Bilgi University.

The EU’s freeze on all but four chapters of the accession talks, and the open hostility towards Turkey-in-Europe of some member states – Germany and France think it is too big, too poor and too Muslim to absorb – rankles. « How do you want me to convince my party when [Chancellor Angela] Merkel and [President Nicolas] Sarkozy keep telling me I don’t belong, » Mr Erdogan keeps complaining, according to Marc Pierini, the EU’s ambassador to Ankara. There are barbs aplenty, especially for Mr Sarkozy. « We understand his problem, he doesn’t want another rival, another UK, as it were, inside the EU, » says Selim Yenel, undersecretary at the foreign ministry.

Yet all sides recognise there are things happening in Turkey that would not if there were no accession process – from the deepening of democracy to a transformation of industry that is now a key component of Europe’s competitiveness. The European Investment Bank has tripled its investment in Turkish infrastructure and development to €2.7bn ($3.3bn, £2.3bn) a year. There are 12,600 EU companies in Turkey, 4,000 of them German, including Mercedes and Renault, Airbus and Siemens. « The Turkey that will have completed accession negotiations will be greatly different to the Turkey of today, just as today it has been transformed from the Turkey of 10 years ago, » says Abdullah Gul, Turkey’s president.

Turkey is being transformed, the president says, and he acknowledges that the drive for EU membership « has been the dynamo that drives the reform process ». But, he asks, « Does [the EU] have a strategic outlook? Can it plan 50 years ahead and think of its grandchildren? » A good question.

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