The newly elected Turkish government is in a race against time to meet criteria required by European leaders if Turkey is to be considered for permanent membership in the EU. Two issues are at stake that are certain to influence the course of Turkey’s accession: reforms and Cyprus.
On December 3rd, a 33-article reform package went to parliament in time to meet the December 12th deadline when the Copenhagen Summit, a historic EU enlargement meeting, convenes to consider prospective nations and their EU status, with Turkey perhaps the most controversial among them.
Meanwhile, amid intensified diplomacy in Ankara, Danish Foreign Minister Per Stig Moeller met Turkish leaders in Ankara for talks on Cyprus and reform, expressing his sentiment that the EU would carefully monitor reform efforts before reaching a decision on whether or not to grant a date for starting accession talks. Moeller said talks with Turkish leaders would provide a basis for exploration of possibilities about what could be done for Turkey in Copenhagen.
In addition, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw was in Turkey on December 3rd in a final diplomatic attempt to resolve the Cyprus dispute before the deadline. Straw told Ankara that Turkey will get British support provided that Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktas signs a framework UN agreement on Cyprus in time for the summit. The framework calls for the island to be reunited under a loose common government with Greek and Turkish Cypriots running most of their own affairs.
Once again, the burden of proof is on Turkey to make what EU leaders consider as necessary changes to open the path for Turkey’s EU accession.
Controversy has traditionally stemmed from what European leaders claim is Turkey’s poor human rights record and its lack of swiftness in passing certain reforms; chief among them the right of Kurdish citizens to broadcast and teach in their own language. That argument was solved in August 2002, when Turkey granted Kurds the right to broadcast and teach in Kurdish as part of the country’s EU drive.
In the meantime, the current reform package contains even more sweeping revisions covering a broader definition of free speech. While EU leaders have echoed positive sentiments regarding these sweeping changes, they have not gone so far as to laud them.
Many in Turkey see the process as one in which with every step Ankara makes, the EU takes one step back in its consideration of Turkey’s EU status – creating another reform to be passed or another reason as to why Turkey is “not ready” to join the EU.
If Turkey were permitted to join the EU, it would eventually become the largest nation in the bloc – something that most agree creates a huge threat to what many Turks deem as an otherwise “Christian club.”
Turkish opposition stems from the fact that countries such as Bulgaria, with an economy much smaller than Turkey’s, is being considered for membership in 2004 while Turkey’s date keeps being pushed back.
This being a case in point, Turkey is evermore in a rush to prove to the EU just how ready and capable it is of taking its rightful place in the EU-member family.
Clearly, December 12th is pivotal for Turkey’s membership bid and for the, as yet, unresolved Cyprus issue. Both the Turkish and Greek sides are being asked to reach a preliminary deal on the future of Cyprus based on a plan drafted by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.
It is precisely this situation that Turkey is wary of, since Moeller has reiterated that the EU is willing to grant membership status to a unified Cyprus, but EU officials have echoed the sentiment that failure to reach a political solution on the island would not bar accession of Greek Cyprus. That means no clear guarantee for Turkish Cyprus or for Turkey’s accession.
So, where does that leave Turkey? The answer may very well lie with Justice and Development Party (AK) leader Erdogan’s comments made some weeks ago, when he stressed that without a clear deal for Turkey, Ankara would be unwilling to sign off on the Cyprus plan laid out by Annan.
At this point, one thing is certain. Much controversy remains regarding Turkey’s entry into a permanent place in the EU. Though some speculate that a deal allowing Cyprus entry would make it harder for the EU to reject Turkey, it is precisely this type of political manoeuvring that could prove a major alienation factor with the Turkish side.
Speculation is rife that if Cyprus were allowed a seemingly “carte blanche” entry without a definite settlement between the two sides, it would be considered a slap in the face by Ankara.
On the other hand, some see this as the best deal on Cyprus that either of the two sides are likely to see, with the UN plan to allow a Turkish military presence on the island, ensuring that Turkey’s strategic interests would not be harmed by a deal.
So, it is down to the wire, with less than a week to go until some concrete decisions are made and frameworks laid out. Many are waiting to see how Turkey’s moderate Islamic government will fare at the Copenhagen Summit.