Europe in the middle of the Turkish dilemma

Article published on Oct. 4, 2004
community published
Article published on Oct. 4, 2004

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

The controversial marriage between Ankara and Brussels continues to divide diplomacies and EU institutions

“According to my textbook in primary school, Turkey was part of Asia”, said Helmut Kohl, the chancellor who brought about the reunification of Germany but who does not want to see Turkey unified with the EU. One of the other ‘fathers of Europe’, France’s Valery Giscard d’Estaing, thinks differently about the same issue. However, no matter how influential their opinions are, Turkey’s fate will be decided on December 17th by the Council of Europe. On this occasion, the 25 member countries of the EU will finally have to reveal their cards by taking positions either for or against Turkey’s entry to the EU.

Member States are in favour, but not enthusiastic

The first test-bed for Turkey is the final report by the European Commission, which is due to be published on October 6th and which is destined to open the debate. The report will be signed by the commissioner responsible for the Enlargement, Germany’s Günther Verheugen. He was trapped in the middle of a bitter and unexpected polemic with the Turkish government in mid-September regarding the postponement of the reform of the Turkish penal code. Verheugen is the shim of the German social-democrats at the Commission who, led by the pro-Turkey Schröder, consider Turkey’s entry into the EU favourable on the condition that the Anatolic giant respects the Copenhagen Criterion. But Ankara must take into account the possible loss of German support: recent elections show a shift away from the centre-left in Germany and suggest that the Conservatives have a good chance of gaining office in 2006. The hostility of the centre-right parties towards Turkey’s entry has been made known, and is due to be put in writing in the following weeks by their leader, Angela Merkel. However, by this time the enlargement process could already be irreversible as it has support from the UK, Italy and the Netherlands. Also, and very importantly for Turkey, its entry into the EU is, if not supported, at least no longer vehemently opposed by its old enemies of Greece and Cyprus.

The Anglo-Italian axis should therefore have a fairly easy job in persuading the Franco-Spanish-German trio as, among the three, only France appears to have serious doubts. Consequently, and perhaps rather surprisingly, the real struggle will be played out within France’s Centre-Right government (the UMP), with President Jacques Chirac willing to say ‘yes’ to Ankara at the cost of going against his own “colonels” and the ever sceptical Raffarin .

Three Anti-Turkish Factors

So what are the obstacles over the opening of negotiations if the ‘big countries’ of the EU do not seem to oppose Turkey’s adhesion? Firstly, there is the problem of European public opinion: the principal leaders of the EU could easily figure out the consequences of a pro-entry decision – such as fixing a date for the opening of negotiations – given that only 17% of the French, 26% of the Germans and 31% of the British are in favour of Turkey’s entry. It is true that there are still many people who are undecided, but public opinion appears to be anything but enthusiastic about Turkey’s possible entry to the EU.

Secondly, there is the ‘Avalanche Effect’. The fact that in some member states Turkey’s entry is considered more as a vague promise than a real eventuality has meant that, until now, few have had the courage to say ‘No’ openly. But EU Commissioner Franz Fischler’s letter, a heavily critical discourse on colleague Frits Bolkenstein and the position taken by the Austrian government, could provoke more critical consciences, fuelling the insidious fire in Brussels against Ankara’s ambitions. What’s more is that several Vatican wards have revealed that they are against Turkey’s entry. In a recent interview with the French newspaper “Le Figaro”, Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger defined Turkey as ‘another continent and in permenent contrast with Europe’. Therefore, it is possible that the anti-Turkish battle could always get worse.

The final problem is Turkey’s latest sensational gaffe: the move by Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s government to re-introduce the penalization of adultery in a project which was supposed to bring the Turkish penal code in line with European standards, not with the Sharia (Islamic law). Although the law against adultery was not introduced, there is no doubt that its suggestion could have pushed Turkey one step further away from their entry to the EU.

European Parliament could vote ‘No’

At the moment, the role of the European Parliament appears to be more advisory than substantial, but the new president, Josep Borrell, has already invited his colleagues to provide their opinions on the matter of Turkey’s entry by December. In Strasbourg, the influence of the German Conservatives, which has an impact on the majority, could mean some unpleasant surprises for Ankara as their leader, Pöttering, has already revealed his opposition to Turkey’s adhesion. As for the numbers of supportors, the possible Liberal-Socialist alliance (whose leader, Graham Watson, is one of the most decisive factors for Turkey’s entry), could guarantee a ‘conditional’ yes to the opening of negotiations. But there is still much to consider: we should not forget that last April, 211 Euro-deputies voted to reject Turkey’s entry to the EU while only 84 voted in favour of it. The debate over Turkey’s entry is bound to liven up the political scene on the continent in the last quarter of 2004.

To weigh up the advantages of the EU’s project for Turkey’s possible entry is a very difficult task; at least it will provide some short-term political benefits. How would Europe change with Turkey’s entry? Could it acquire a real strategic power, necessary for facing up to its future challenges? The solution for the Turkish dilemma could also be found in answering this question.