Now You See It, Now You Don't ... Jon Gorvett Reports from Istanbul on the Latest Developments in the Turbulent Issue of Turkey's Entry to the European Union

By Gorvett, Jon | The Middle East, November 2003 | Go to article overview

Now You See It, Now You Don't ... Jon Gorvett Reports from Istanbul on the Latest Developments in the Turbulent Issue of Turkey's Entry to the European Union


Gorvett, Jon, The Middle East


With each summit of the European Union appearing to bring the prospect of future membership tantalisingly closer--only for some incident to then whisk that possibility still further away--most Turks have learned over the years to take promises of a European future with a large measure of salt.

Yet, since the coming to power of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) government in November 2002, a solid argument is now developing that Turkey may indeed be only a few years away from achieving its goal.

At least, that is one way of reading the latest EU progress report on the country, which was being widely leaked in the Turkish media as The Middle East went to press. Due for release later dais month (November), it is being hailed as the most positive write-up the country has ever had. It has also come at the end of some exhaustive lobbying of EU heads of state by AKP leader and Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan.

EU Commissioner Responsible for Enlargement, Gunther Verheugen, who is not known in Turkey for his enthusiasm for the country's potential membership, met Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul in Brussels at the start of October. Afterwards, he told reporters he expected that "the signal that comes [from the report] will be positive." He also praised the AKP, saying, "For the present government, political reform is an objective in itself".

This was a reference to a long held mistrust amongst EU officials of successive Turkish administrations' real commitment to change. Verheugen elaborated that previous governments had only supported reform "half-heartedly because it was imposed upon them".

Verheugen also singled out for praise the reforms the AKP has passed limiting the power of the military in politics, those granting some educational and linguistic rights to the country's ethnic Kurds and the abolition of the death penalty.

However, a number of thorny problems still remain, while even some of the more positive developments cited may still not be entirely in the clear. Verheugen cited the Cyprus problem in particular as an area without which "it would be easier to reach a decision on opening the talks."

First of all though, the plus points. Turkey is now discussing its eighth EU harmonisation package, with a vast quantity of legislation now on the statute book to bring the country into line with the EU's ground rules--the Copenhagen Criteria and the body of laws known as the acquis communautaire.

The harmonisation packages have steadily eroded much of the anti-liberal legal codes of the Turkish state, which has meant, in practice, a growing framework for the liberalisation of the economy and of the political system. Regarding the former, the government has announced an ambitious privatisation programme, which still aims to secure $4bn this year.

Previous governments had introduced laws on tendering procedures and the role of international courts. A major campaign against film and music piracy is just one of the many visible outcomes of this, as police have seized millions of bootlegs on the streets of Istanbul and other big cities this summer, in line with EU copyright laws.

Regarding political liberalisation, the AKP government has gone so far as to challenge the military itself long powerful in Turkish politics and the architects of the current constitution, instituted following the general's 1980 coup d'etat. The seventh harmonisation package reduced the military's role in politics by cutting down on the powers of the National Security Council (MGK), the institution set up by the generals to enable them to exercise control over the government's actions. …

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