Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Ankara Seethes as Parliamentary Reforms Fail to Open Door to EU

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Ankara Seethes as Parliamentary Reforms Fail to Open Door to EU

Article excerpt

"Unfair," "in bad faith" and "a slap in the face" were some of the milder reactions from Turkish politicians and media pundits in early October, when the EU's European Commission turned in a "must do better" report on the country's progress toward a start date for EU membership talks.

Adding insult to injury, the report cleared 10 other countries for accession. Bulgaria, Poland, Romania, Hungary-all are likely to be EU members by the end of the decade.Yet all were locked well behind the Iron Curtain when Turkey made its first bid to join the European club back in the early 1960s.

Leapfrogged by these former Soviet satellites, many Turks were also alarmed to see that Cyprus also had been given a clean bill of health by the EU and would likely become a member within two or three years. This, the report implied, should happen whether or not a solution to the long-standing division of the island has been found.

This raised the worrying spectacle of Brussels being asked to act against the Turkish troops on the island, which technically would be occupying EU territory once Cyprus joined.

Altogether, then, the report's judicious leaking early October was not a great day in Ankara. This despite the calming words of EU Commissioner for Enlargement Gunther Verheugen, who also praised the efforts Turkey had made so far and stressed that the report was only a recommendation, not a definitive statement. It will go to the Copenhagen Summit of EU leaders in December, where a final decision on enlargement plans is likely to be made.

There were yet more calming words to come, however, this time from a source not usually noted for its close interest in EU enlargement affairs-i.e., the U.S. "We have long believed Turkey's future is in Europe," said State Department spokesman Richard Boucher the day the Commission's report was leaked. "It's in the strategic interests of the U.S. and Europe for Turkey and the EU to build the closest possible relationship."

This was followed some days later by a resolution in the House of Representatives which further highlighted Turkey's strategic value, and called on the EU to start membership negotiations as soon as possible.

"The EU should recognize Turkey's comprehensive political and economic reforms and should set a date for membership negotiations at the Copenhagen summit," the resolution read, with cross-party support from Florida's Democratic Rep. Robert Wexler and Republican Rep. Ed Whitfield of Kentucky. Setting a date for negotiations to begin has been Turkey's principal demand ever since it was given candidate status at Helsinki in 1999.

The House resolution also followed hard on the heals of praise from another quarter not normally so vocal in support of Turkey's European identity-UK Foreign Minister Jack Straw. "Turkey is a key member of NATO and a vital ally in the campaign against terrorism," he said, stressing that the country had made "significant progress in meeting the political criteria necessary to start negotiations for membership."

So what was this "significant progress" Washington and London thought worthy of praise, perhaps--cynics might argue-with an eye on Turkey's importance in any future operation against Iraq?

Part of the reason many Turks felt particularly displeased with the Commission's report this time was that Turkey's parliament had passed a whole clutch of reforms back in the summer aimed at bringing the country more into line with EU norms.

The package had abolished the death penalty, except in wartime, allowed Kurdishlanguage broadcasting and teaching, redressed a discriminatory code on property ownership by Greek Orthodox, Armenian and Jewish foundations, and changed a number of laws that previously had gagged free speech.

While EU officials welcomed the package, the Commission also said that it needed to see the new laws being implemented, not merely legislated. Attention then turned to this, the most tricky of areas-the practical. …

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