A 'Privileged Partnership'

Article published on Feb. 27, 2004
community published
Article published on Feb. 27, 2004

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Turkey has been waiting almost 40 years to be accepted into the European family. How about a “privileged partnership” instead of full membership, asks the German opposition.

This man knows how to make friends. During his recent visit to Ankara, the German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, had no trouble making himself popular. His position on the towering subject of Turkey’s EU membership complied perfectly with his host’s wishes: if in autumn, the EU Commission considers that the Copenhagen criteria for Turkey’s accession have been fulfilled, then “accession procedures must be begun without delay”.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan, will have heard these words with all the more pleasure given that it's barely a fortnight since the German opposition leader, Angela Merkel, expressed quite the opposite opinion during her visit. She was adamant in her opposition to any move to start accession procedures, stating that the current situation in the EU made Turkish accession impossible.

Religion and human rights

Rarely have opposing views on the matter been expressed so succinctly as in the contradictory messages of these two German state visits. The arguments forwarded by the two camps have, however, barely seen any change in years.

Opponents to accession fear a flood of Turkish immigrants into the labour market. What is more, with the integration of a further ten members to the EU on the 1st May 2004, they believe the EU will be fully occupied for at least 12 years. Neither has the general scepticism towards a Muslim country that “has an entirely different social background”, as Edmund Stoiber, the head of the CDU’s sister party, CSU, so aptly put it, been dispelled yet, in spite of a comprehensive reform package and constitutional adjustments on Turkey's part. The unresolved Cyprus question and a justified suspicion of a disregard for human rights don’t help Turkey’s case much either.

On the other hand, with its common borders with Syria, Iraq and Iran, Turkey’s geopolitical position has recently been attached great significance. No-one can doubt the importance of having a reliable partner in one of the world’s most explosive regions, especially one which currently has the second largest army among NATO members. Turkey’s integration into Europe could set a precedent of a Muslim state reconciling itself with western values which would serve as an example for the rest of the Middle East.

A real alternative

With this in mind, and given the German electorate’s sensitivity to the Turkey question, the CDU have conceived of an innovative approach. It is quite some time now that they have been vocalising their attempt at a solution which Merkel herself promoted in Ankara, “We’re offering Turkey a privileged partnership”.

Rather than full membership, this concept of a “third way” would grant Turkey a special status in relation to the EU which would indeed go beyond the current customs union but it would not envisage any Turkish participation in common European policies, except in the fields of security and defence. The union has the creation of a free trade zone in mind which would include all types of goods and would even eventually allow the free flow of capital. However, the EU labour market would, to begin with, remain closed. Increases to the aid programme are also envisaged, the focus of which lies on measures to strengthen the civil society.

Unsurprisingly, the area where the programme ventures the furthest is the proposed cooperation within the framework of foreign and security policy. Regular discussions are hoped to facilitate the development of “common strategies”; above all Turkey would be “directly involved” in “planning and setting up a fast-response intervention troop independent of NATO, with a seat for its Ambassador at the Political and Security Committee (PSC), and constant representation at The European Union Military Staff.

Second class Europeans

The Turkish reactions to the proposal were moderate enough not to come across as impolite. A privileged partnership “is not on our agenda”, Erdogan stated quite simply, whilst the Turkish politician for foreign affairs, Eyyüp Sanay, tried rather less hard to please in expressing his hope “that the CDU will change their position”.

This clear rejection brings no surprises. Turkey has been invited to set accession in its sights since the 1964 Association Agreement with the EEC and has received pre-accession assistance since the 2000 Nice Summit in accordance with its official status as an accession candidate. In March 2001, the Turkish government adopted a comprehensive reform package that is aimed at the complete fulfilment of the Copenhagen criteria. In short, Turkey believes it is on the steady path towards Europe. Who then would seriously anticipate gratitude for a proposal that stops short of full membership?

Besides, the idea of a privileged partnership is suspiciously biased in its benefit to the EU: all the essential wishes of EU states would be fulfilled, especially that of gaining in Turkey a strategic partner in the Middle East and the chance of an economic boost in an expanded free trade zone, without having to pay the full price for it.

For Turkey, this “real alternative” is simply not an option. And, as the candidate for Germany’s succeeding governing party in 2006, the CDU/CSU should be aware of the bridges they have just burnt in Ankara. According to Stoiber’s vision, the model of a privileged partnership should also be used with other states like Russia and Ukraine. It could work if it didn’t mean taking a huge step back in the approach towards Europe. For Turkey,it is precisely this step back that makes this solution unacceptable.