Turkey Faces the EU


Economic News

22 Jul 2010
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The publication in February of confidential e-mails from the European Commission's envoy to Ankara Karen Fogg has fuelled debate in Turkey on its relations and aspirations with the European Union. Turkish prosecutors on March 11th sought jail sentences of up to three years for the publishers, but by then the discussion over the EU's role in Turkish affairs was threatening to destabilise the government. On March 7th the Secretary General of the National Security Committee General Tuncer Kilinc suggested that Turkey look to Russia or Iran as regional allies. The following day Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit reiterated Turkey's commitment to joining the EU, saying it was Ankara's only option. All the while the government has been trying to push through legislation to bring the country closer to the EU by a March 19th deadline, and has been looking for its support in Turkey's imminent role in Afghanistan.

Although Ms Fogg's e-mails were published by the left-wing magazine Aydinlik in apparent collusion with the leader of Turkey's Workers Party Dogu Perincek in early February the events have left their mark. Perincek called Fogg a spy and claimed that she was supporting Kurdish publications and rights, and along with a number of other Turkish political figures called for her withdrawal back to Brussels. The publication said that the e-mails indicated an EU plot to break up Turkey. Government officials expressed their regret that this could happen but the debate over Turkey's role in Europe has come to the forefront.

Turkish prosecutors have called for harsh punishments for the owner of the weekly publication Aydinlik, Emcet Olcaytu, and Perincek. They have demanded prison sentences of up to three years for each of them in addition to the relatively modest fines they would receive. The prosecutors are annoyed at the embarrassment the incident has caused Turkey and that the magazine published a second group of e-mails after being reprimanded for the first lot.

Turkey has been ruled out of admission to the EU in 2004, when a number of other smaller ex-communist states will be allowed in, as Brussels claims that Ankara has not done enough to rectify its human rights record, implemented decisions to allow broadcasting in languages other than Turkish and abolished capital punishment. Many Turks are convinced that the EU is moving the goalposts, should not interfere in Turkish internal affairs, is not helping Turkey to combat terrorism by outlawing its terrorist groups- such as the PKK- and has undermined the whole admission system by saying that it will admit Cyprus even without a comprehensive agreement.

Aside from initially condemning the e-mail hacking incident and claiming that the source was not in the state's apparatus, the government had been quiet on the row between Turkish liberals and nationalists. The military was drawn into the debate on March 7th by General Kilinc who claimed that the EU had never helped Turkey in its efforts to joint the club and did not have Turkey's interests at heart. He suggested that rather than worry about EU membership Turkey's allies- besides the US- should be Iran and Russia. This was largely read as the official military viewpoint- although Kilinc said he was only speaking for himself- and despite the obvious difficulties of Ankara allying itself with an Islamist regime and Moscow, with whom it has had disputes covering Chechen and Kurdish rebels respectively.

Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit intervened on March 8th and sought to calm European concerns by saying that Turkey's future was in Europe despite occasional obstacles and misunderstandings between the EU and Ankara. The Foreign Minister Ismail Cem has also condemned impressions that the EU was the "enemy" saying that Turks had been considering the "subject of the EU in the most incorrect way".

The government meanwhile has to fulfil its short-term pledges to the EU of legislating on reforms by March 19th, although some could be postponed to a later date- one or two years from now- in a medium-term package. The amendment to abolish the death penalty falls into the category, but one of the junior coalition partners, the Nationalist Movement Party (MHP), has called for delays on other amendments. These include issues such as use of the Kurdish language and restricting Gendarmerie forces in rural areas.

The MHP's caution in adopting what it sees as EU-imposed reforms is reflected in its concerns about Turkey joining the EU, although it claims it is committed to the idea. At the other end of the coalition spectrum the Motherland Party (ANAP) is very much in favour of implementing reforms and has accused the MHP of spoiling the national programme for EU admission. The MHP leader Devlet Bahceli retorted by criticising the ANAP for blindly following EU requests, but reports on March 15th indicated that a compromise had been found. The draft bill was sent to parliament for approval on March 16th.The main sticking points had been the abolition of the death penalty and the possible use of Kurdish in broadcasting and education, but these will now be brought to Turkey's legislature at a later date. The agreement comes just before the EU summit in Barcelona starting on March 15th, which Ecevit and some ministers attended, but reports indicate that by the time of the March 19th deadline Ankara had only completed just over half of the reforms the EU requires, and those were mainly concerned with economic issues.

Aside from practical help from the EU in reforming his country's laws Ecevit has also sought their support in clearing the problems of Turkey's up-coming leadership of the ISAF in Afghanistan. Turkey already has around 260 troops in Kabul and is due to take over the leadership of the military operations by the end of April when the British mandate will expire. However, Ankara had voiced concern at the cost of increasing its force by around 1000 men, at an estimated cost of $60m, at a time when the country is still trying to recover from last year's economic crisis. After talks in Ankara between the US, Britain and Turkey it appears that Washington will provide some financial assistance and will encourage other countries to do so as well, clearing the way for Ankara to take over command. The Us secretary of State Dick Cheney said on March 19th that Washington would give Turkey $228m to cover military expenses, also taking into account action against Iraq.

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