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Turkey Moves to Revive Its EU Bid 17 mai 2012

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The Wall Street Journal (USA) May 17, 2012, p. A9

By Joe Parkinson, Istanbul

Turkey is seeking to revive its stalled bid to join the European Union, at a time of mounting fears its neighbor and longtime rival, Greece, could become the first country forced to exit the euro zone.

Ankara has in recent days signaled that the departure of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, a leading critic of Turkey’s EU bid, could reignite the candidacy of one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Socialist Francois Hollande ascended to the French presidency on Tuesday.

On Thursday, Turkey and the EU are set begin talks aimed at bringing Ankara’s membership bid back on track. This week Turkey’s government sent a set of draft bills to Parliament, including measures to improve human rights in the country, a move interpreted as laying the groundwork for boosting its bid.

« With the coming to power of Mr. Francois Hollande, we are all hoping that a new course in the Turkish-EU relations will gain momentum, » Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said Monday.

Turkey’s speedy moves to revive its EU bid, while Greece’s political paralysis dominates headlines, speak to how the fates of the neighbors have appeared to invert in recent years. That divergence has additional significance given a century of rancor between the two sides, including a standoff over Cyprus.

Turkey’s economy, long stricken by crisis and international bailouts, is booming; it expanded 8.5% in 2011. Ankara is flexing its regional diplomatic muscle. In Greece, where citizens long enjoyed a high standard of living cushioned by a generous welfare system, an economic crash has led to international bailouts and street protests.

This fact hasn’t been lost on Turkey’s politicians or press.

In March, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan said the only way Greece could escape its malaise was to dramatically boost trade ties with fast-growing Turkey.

Some Greek politicians have even said Athens should look to its old adversary as a model. Last year, then-Greek Prime Minister George Papandreou attempted to herd the country’s legislators into voting for an austerity package that was triggering riots. Citing Turkey’s successful restructuring after a 2001 banking crisis, he asked: « Why can’t we do what our neighbors the Turks have done? »

In 2011, Turkey imported more than $2.5 billion worth of goods from Greece, more than double the level in 2009. Turkish companies are now showing interest in buying up assets as the Greek government looks to privatize state-run companies, according to Turkey’s Foreign Economic Relations Board, a business lobby group.

Turkey’s politicians like to make contrasts with Greece to score domestic political points, analysts said.

« Part of this is for domestic consumption, » said Atilla Yesilada, a partner at Istanbul Analytics, a political-research consultancy. « But in the short term the EU is completely preoccupied with its own crisis and has no way to chart a new course for Turkish membership. »

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