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Turkey Takes Steps Toward Europe 3 avril 2013

Posted by Acturca in Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.
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The Wall Street Journal (USA) April 3, 2013, p. 5

By Emre Peker, Istanbul

Ankara has taken steps to reaffirm ties with Brussels, despite angry rhetoric over a customs agreement with the European Union, in an effort to find shelter against troubling political and economic developments in its region.

In an interview, Turkey’s Deputy Prime Minister Ali Babacan rejected calls by a minister and businessmen to withdraw from the customs union negotiated in 1996 with Turkey’s biggest trading partner. They say the pact crimps Turkey’s export competitiveness, as the bloc enters into free-trade agreements with other nations that are binding for Ankara even though the Turks don’t have a say in the negotiations.

« It’s not that easy to say we’re angry and we’re out, » said Mr. Babacan, who oversees Turkey’s economic policy. « He who rises in fury reaps damage from his fall. We always have to think strategically. »

The minister’s intervention follows an announcement last week that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan plans to visit Brussels for the first time in three years. That news came after France’s move in February to lift a block on Ankara’s membership negotiations after years of deadlock.

Officials in Brussels and Ankara, however, remain concerned that more than seven years after Turkey’s accession talks formally began, most of the negotiation issues remain unresolved.

Also during that time, Turkish public opinion of the need to join the bloc has cooled. Support for EU membership plummeted to an all-time low while the accession talks ground to a halt over the past three years.

But analysts say Ankara now has come to realize that its recent efforts to strengthen foreign and trade policy toward its neighbors in the Middle East has left the country exposed to economic and political shocks.

« Turkey started seeing the limitations of its diversification policies on both foreign affairs and economics. This had to happen eventually because the expectations would have to face up to the reality, » said Sinan Ulgen, a foreign-policy analyst at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and a former Turkish diplomat who helped negotiate the 1996 customs agreement.

« The EU will remain Turkey’s top market despite falling demand, and will continue to be the top provider of foreign direct investment in Turkey, » he added.

Government officials, quick to accuse EU members of blindly blocking Ankara’s entry because of religious and historic enmity, are urging Brussels to focus on Turkey’s dynamic $786 billion economy as an engine that can help remedy euro-zone woes.

Still, the unpopularity of the EU on the Turkish street and in political spheres remains an obstacle to any warming of relations. Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan has continued to question whether Turkey should be strongly linked to the EU’s economy.

« This has now become an agreement of servitude. At this point, Turkey is, unfortunately, getting shafted by the customs agreement that I had supported in the past, » Mr. Caglayan said, adding that Ankara should negotiate new terms or pull out of the deal with the EU.

For many Turks, the comments Sunday by Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu sum up Turkey’s stance: « If the EU gives us passage, we’ll walk on that path as per our strategic goals. If it blocks our path, they go their way, we go our way. »


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