The deal recently negotiated by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, in Brussels on his country’s longstanding quest for membership of the European Union is, by general agreement, unfair and humiliating, and by no means indicates – let alone guaranteeing – that Turkey will eventually be allowed to become a member of the EU. All it secures for Turkey is accession talks beginning on October 3, which could last for a decade or more– with even more humiliating conditions attached – and still fail to lead to admission into the EU. Yet Erdogan, whose government is often described in the West as “Islamic-leaning”, is determined to sell this compromising and controversial arrangement to his own sceptical people –even to the extent of arguing publicly that they should do much more than they have already done to prove that their country is fit to be admitted to the EU. But despite the fact that a large number of Turks are keen to see their country join the Union and will support his conciliatory – some would say submissive – style, the prime minister will find it difficult to take the majority on board.
So much has been written and broadcast on the deal struck in Brussels on December 17 that its provisions are familiar to all Turks and most Muslims elsewhere, and need not be repeated here in detail. Basically, an agreement was reached to commence accession talks on October 3, with the understanding that talks will only start once Turkey has signed an association agreement with all EU members, including Greek Cyprus. A much stronger demand, calling for the diplomatic recognition of the island, was rejected by Erdogan, who threatened to walk out of the summit. This demand was based on the contention that Ankara could not be invited to accession talks when it did not recognise members of the organisation it wants to join. Greek Cyprus was admitted to the EU on May 1 last year, despite the fact that a UN project for reuniting the Greek and Turkish parts of the divided island was on the table at the time.
The Turkish Cypriots had accepted the UN plan; the Greek Cypriots had rejected it. By admitting the Greek part, the EU sabotaged the UN project; while dropping its attempt to forceAnkara to recognise Greek Cyprus directly, it seems to have succeeded in forcing it to do so indirectly. A direct recognition would have turned the Turkish army’s presence in Northern Cyprus into that of an occupier. It was not, therefore, surprising that Erdogan – and the chief of the Turkish armed forces – objected strongly to it.
But the mere acceptance of the condition that accession talks will not begin until Ankara signs a trade-agreement with the Greek Cypriots means that the basis of an eventual recognition has been laid. Moreover, the fact that the EU can make the start of accession talks conditional on such a demand, and get away with it, means that it can make further demands – such as Ankara’s agreement that the killing of Armenians by the Ottomans amounted to “genocide”. On December 19, for instance, Tassos Papadopoulos, the ruler of Greek Cyprus, repeated his warning that Turkey’s EU accession is not guaranteed, and that Cyprus would not support it unless Ankara recognised his government. The prospect of Turkey joining the EU was also treated with caution by much of the European media, and opponents – led by Nicolas Sarkozy, head of the governing UMP party in France – continue to express reservations.
Sarkozy told French television: “Europe already has difficulty functioning with 25 members. The more members Europe has, the less we will be integrated, the less we will share common values and the more fragile we will be.” Sarkozy is said to be more hostile to admitting Turkey than Jacques Chirac, the French president, who is on record as having said that he is in favour of Turkey’s membership.
Interestingly, it was Chirac who began to lay down the most effective basis for rejection of membership when he announced that he would put French acceptance to a referendum. He must know full well that most French voters will reject it without any hesitation, given the opportunity. Austria, another EU member – whose population is as hostile to Turkish membership as the French – has announced that any decision to admit Turkey will be submitted to a referendum. According to EU rules, every member-state has the right to veto the acceptance of new members by referendum.
But while the French and the Austrians, as well as others, are virtually certain to block Turkish membership, they are not at all hostile to the prospect of, say, Romania or Bulgaria joining, although, as Ankara points out, these countries are even poorer than Turkey. Their accession talks are in full swing, and they are not subject to humiliating or obstructive objections or conditions.
So it is not at all surprising that a cross-section of Turkish society, including highly secular people and groups, have objected strongly to the deal agreed by Erdogan, demanding, when he returned to Ankara from Brussels, that he abandon it. The opposition parties and Islamic groups were the most vocal in their criticism. Denis Baykal, leader of the main opposition group, the Republican People’s party, said that “this is not the EU we want”, perhaps hinting, like other objectors, that he is willing to join a union that respects Turkish culture, religion and dignity. Certainly there are many Turks from ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Kurds and the Roman Catholic Christians, who believe that joining a friendly EU as an equal member can advance their interests.
Most Turks who want to join the EU, however, “want to be a part of Europe, but with our honour and values intact,” as a factory-worker was quoted on December 18 in a London paper as saying. The mayor of a Turkish town, described by the same paper as “an undiluted EU enthusiast”, says that he is “hurt” by the attitudes of Europeans towards his country.
Erdogan should heed his people’s views and feelings, and stop demeaning them and destroying their bargaining position. By siding with them, he is likely to gain more than from ignoring them for the sake of a process that is extremely unlikely to culminate in the end he desires.