Turkey Is Too Important to Leave Completely out of the European Union

Article excerpt

The European Union's plans to begin membership negotiation talks with Turkey this week have once again been thrown into disarray - for European governments have had difficulty coming to an agreement over the very terms of the negotiation. This does not bode well for those ignoring the very real possibility of Europe rejecting Turkey's EU membership.

After years of indecision and delay, the most optimistic assessment sees Turkey joining the club in roughly 10 years - but Ankara's real chances are diminishing by the day as the political landscape in Europe continues to change rapidly.

Consider the cases of France and Germany. After the rejection of the EU constitution earlier this year, Paris has become increasingly critical of Turkey. Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is now publicly talking about stalling membership negotiations. Prospects for Turkey could deteriorate further if Nikolas Sarkozy, the rising star of French politics, wins the presidential election in 2007. Mr. Sarkozy has stated bluntly, "Turkey has no place in Europe."

Similarly, if Angela Merkel ends up heading a coalition government in Germany, this could turn Berlin from a key supporter of Turkish accession into one of its staunchest opponents. Instead of admitting Turkey to full membership, Mrs. Merkel's party has consistently favored a "privileged partnership" with Turkey - a concept that has signified little, other than a desperate desire for Ankara to stay outside the union.

The dismissive attitude of these leaders is a manifestation of the European public's skepticism toward Turkey. A recent EU poll has shown that only 35 percent of European citizens are sympathetic to the idea of Ankara joining the bloc. If a referendum were held today more than 60 percent of the French and 80 percent of the Austrians would vote against Turkish accession.

"Turkey fatigue" has become so obvious that even the Euro-elites in Brussels have been unable to ignore it any longer. Yet the European Commission, itself hopelessly divided over Turkey's European vocation, is not providing leadership on the issue. What is offered instead is a draft negotiation document that is both for and against accession.

The EU can't have it both ways. Membership negotiations will suffer from Turkey managing comprehensive and lengthy political and economic reforms without the promise of reward - admission to the club. Given the uncertainty of public referenda, however, it is exactly this reward that the EU is unable to guarantee. This puts the valuable reforms Ankara has achieved so far into jeopardy - including greater economic liberalization, increased political control over the military, and strengthened independence of the judiciary.

It is imperative that the West develop genuine policy alternatives to Europe's current all-or-nothing approach, on the chance that Turkey is denied accession. …