It is ironic that foreign affairs analysts (and international investors) seem to be more sanguine about Turkey’s political and economic outlook heading into 2010 than they have been in years, but at the same time Turkey’s prospects of joining the European Union remain mired in a steady decline.
It is refreshing then to see Hugh Pope, one of the West’s most astute observers of Turkish political developments, argue in Today’s Zaman that the German-French cold-shoulder that has stifled Turkey’s accession process for the last several years may be warming, if only slightly, to Turkey.
Here is part of what Pope says
On his return from an ice-breaking trip to France in October, Turkish President Abdullah Gül was happy to state that the French leadership did not mention “privileged partnership.” In fact, although President Nicolas Sarkozy may not have changed his own mind, his politicization of Turkey’s EU membership during his election victory in 2007 has unexpectedly mobilized Turkey’s supporters in France. Left-wing newspapers now debate the merits of the country, whereas a decade ago they mainly picked apart Turkey’s then poor human rights record….
The change is more subtle in Germany, where the idea of “privileged partnership” originated and was a key part of Christian Democrat leaders’ rhetoric during the last election in 2004. After the 2009 elections, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)-Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU)-Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition agreement is still stiff with suspicion of Turkey, underlining that the negotiating process should be open-ended, include no date or automatic or guaranteed right of entry and specify strict obligations to meet EU criteria.
But it makes no mention of “privileged partnership,” saying that only if membership negotiations fail for any future reason, the policy should be to bind Turkey “as closely as possible to European structures to develop her privileged relationship with the EU.” Beyond the linguistic step back from confrontation, this official postponement of any decision is an important change that keeps Turkey’s road open and no longer betrays decades of EU promises of possible membership.
The efforts of key EU states like Germany and France to achieve a more respectful relationship with Turkey gives some hope that the bleak “down” cycle of EU-Turkey hostility between 2005-2008 is entering a new “up” cycle — just as the EU-Turkey near-death experiences of 1987 and 1997 were eventually overcome. With the Lisbon Treaty in place and fears of economic meltdown receding, the EU is regaining self-confidence.
You can read Pope’s entire article here. Time will tell whether Pope’s guarded optimism is deserved.
Clearly there are a number of issues that will determine whether Turkey joins the European Union this decade – not least of which is Turkey’s own domestic political reform program – but it is refreshing to see at least some positive sign, however small, that France and Germany may be reconsidering their counterproductive Turkey policies.
— Ben Katcher