Conditions Attached to Turkey's EU Breakthrough Present Hard Political, Legal and Economic Choices

By Gorvett, Jon | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, March 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Conditions Attached to Turkey's EU Breakthrough Present Hard Political, Legal and Economic Choices


Gorvett, Jon, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Conditions Attached to Turkey's EU Breakthrough Present Hard Political, Legal and Economic Choices

"Victory in Europe!" was the banner headline in mid-December in one of Turkey's leading national dailies, a slogan more reminiscent of a soccer triumph than a major lurch forward in the country's long march to the West. Yet a major move it was, as the European Union summit in Helsinki decided to give Turkey candidate status for membership.

The move had followed a fairly unprecedented amount of lobbying, both by the Turkish and U.S. governments, plus a considerable amount of arm-twisting by assorted Euro heads. There had, after all, been quite an amount of lost face to be recovered, as the previous December 1997 Luxembourg EU summa had excluded Turkey from the next wave of expansion, leading to Ankara breaking off all official links with Brussels.

The eventual deal that was struck was something of a triumph in the way in which it seemed to be saying "yes" to everyone. The big sticking points were, as always, Greece and Greek Cyprus, with the Cypriots pressing their own application for EU membership. The summit ruled that this could go ahead whether or not a solution had been found to the Cyprus problem -- much to the Turks' distress (and particularly the distress of the Turkish Cypriot leader, Rauf Denktash), but much to the Greek Cypriots' delight. At the same time, Greece was also pacified by the inclusion in the EU's acceptance of the Turkish candidacy of a string of clauses requiring of the Turks both political and economic progress before Ankara could even enter into accession talks.

In fact, the initial Turkish response to the heavily conditioned offer of candidacy status with no date for accession to start sounded pretty dismissive. So much so that the EU dispatched one of its principal chiefs, Javier Solana, to Ankara to "explain" the decision to Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit. Despite rumors that Ecevit might reject the offer, he eventually agreed and journeyed himself to Helsinki to accept the deal.

Thus "Victory in Europe." However, it wasn't too long before the euphoria began to wear off. EU membership may have been the dream of successive Turkish administrations -- indeed, may even be the final triumph of the Republic's founder, Kemal Ataturk, and his drive to Europeanize the country -- but, people began to wonder, what did it actually mean?

"No more kukorec" was the first "revelation." This roadside snack of liver and intestines would stand no chance versus a team of European health inspectors, cried the press, and neither would much else in the way of traditional Turkish dishes. In some ways, perhaps, this represented a refreshing start to Turkey's EU career, being reminiscent of the kind of "Save the British sausage/French stick/German wurst" campaign that preoccupies much of the rest of the Union; to thunder about food products seemed further indication of a fundamental normalization in Turkey-EU relations.

Yet there were also more serious concerns. In foreign policy, the EU had made a point of saying that Turkey would have to come to some kind of arrangement with Greece over the Aegean. Athens and Ankara have been locked in a cold war over the status of hundreds of tiny islets in that sea and the extent of each other's territorial waters and air space. Greece has long argued that all such disputes should be taken to the International Court at The Hague.

Turkey prefers to negotiate away from this. Under the Helsinki agreement, however, if the parties to the dispute are unable to reach a deal within two years, the EU may decide to refer the whole issue to the Court anyway.

Secondly, the Helsinki deal prominently mentions political improvements in Turkey itself. High on the list is the status of the country's minorities. Officially, these are only the tiny Greek and Armenian communities.

One of the great unspoken truths of modern Turkey, however, is that half of the country is populated by ethnic minorities, the largest of these being the Kurds. …

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Conditions Attached to Turkey's EU Breakthrough Present Hard Political, Legal and Economic Choices
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