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Putting the House in Order: Turkey’s Attempts at E.U. Membership

By Robert Windorf

Following the AKP’s (Justice and Development Party) overwhelming victory in last November’s general elections, party leader and now prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, promised sweeping human rights reforms and economic measures to comply with the EU’s political and economic criteria to enable Turkey to begin membership negotiations. He believed that Turkey was entitled to a date to begin talks since other candidate countries had not fulfilled the criteria in full when they had begun their respective negotiations. At the time, he stressed the mutual interests of both the EU and Turkey, with the republic’s membership as an example to the Muslim and western worlds that democracy and Islam can co-exist. Erdogan also went so far as to endeavor to implement outstanding rulings by the European Court of Human Rights, identified as a serious issue by the European Commission’s regular progress report on Turkey, removing restrictions on freedom of expressions and conscience, and allowing non-Muslim religious foundations to own real estate.

During December’s Copenhagen EU meetings, while the proud Danish government concluded final preparations for the entry of ten new member states, despite the best of intentions, the Erdogan government discovered it would have to wait until December 2004 to learn if its planned reforms would meet the EU’s criteria for membership. The European Council leadership resolved to review Turkey’s progress on human rights, democracy, and treatment of the Kurds prior to that date and would begin negotiations "without further delay" if EU standards in those and other areas were met. That resolution, in part, arguably came about following the Turks’ withdrawal of their long-standing veto over the use of NATO resources by the EU military rapid reaction force. In the end, Erdogan reluctantly accepted the December 2004 date, despite the Bush administration’s strong lobbying tactics for a faster time-table for Turkey’s accession. The Bush push had been urgently initiated in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy and ahead of the then Iraqi invasion plans as a means to demonstrate the benefits of reform to the Islamic world. Also contributing to the Turks’ displeasure was the EU leadership’s support for Bulgaria and Romania to join the community by 2007.

The Treaty of Nice, signed in February 2001, created the framework for the expansion of the EU. According to the criteria established during the Copenhagen Summit in 1993, the timing of accession of each country to the EU depends upon the progress it makes in preparing for membership. These criteria include:

  • stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights, and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union; and
  • the ability to take on the obligations of membership including the adherence to the aims of political, economic, and monetary union.

While aware of these strict criteria in relation to Turkey’s recent economic, political, and social experience, the Erdogan government realizes there is still much to do, although some progress has been achieved.

The planned EU enlargement to absorb ten new member states will create a trade bloc of twenty-five nations, a total population of 450 million and an economy of $9.4 trillion, closely matching that of the United States. Following a string of national referendums, the ten candidate countries are scheduled to join in May 2004. Soon thereafter, they will elect members to the European Parliament and within the next few years, the majority, if not all, are expected to adopt the Euro. The ten states are Malta, Cyprus, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania.

The EU’s 10 new member states may not welcome the prospect of eventually sharing community transfer payments with Turkey, a much larger country with a lower per capita GDP. Should Turkey begin serious membership negotiations in early 2005, it may not complete such negotiations for another eight to ten years and by then it could have a population in excess of 80 million. That would make it the EU’s largest member and among its poorest. However, Turkey’s young population could arguably become an advantage for the EU’s growing imbalance between retirees and workers. Yet, its different cultural and religious traditions would dramatically change the face of Europe.

Among the ten new members will be Cyprus, which has been divided since 1974, when Turkey sent troops to repel a Greek-sponsored attempt to take over the island that gained independence from the U.K. in 1960. In 1983, the Turkish-held northern portion declared itself an independent republic, but Turkey remains the only nation that recognizes the separate union. A nine-nation UN peacekeeping force continues to guard the 120-mile ‘Green Line.’ Several attempts for a resolution of the partition have failed, with the most recent occurring this March. Turkish Cypriot leader Rauf Denktash then rejected a U.N.-sponsored plan, championed by General Secretary Kofi Anan, that proposed a combination of compensation and limited restitution to the Greek Cypriots.
The talks failed because of disagreements over land and population exchanges. That ended hopes of a united Cyprus that would join the EU in May 2004. However, Turkey is now reportedly working on a plan to transfer to a compensation board in the northern part of Cyprus several thousand Greek Cypriot property claims that would have otherwise been sent to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg.

As another positive measure, Erdogan surprisingly convinced Denktash to lift the travel ban between the two regions in late April. As a result, more than 300,000 people have since crossed the ‘Green Line.’ The reported majority of the border crossings have been made by Greek Cypriots visiting their former homes, with most Turkish travelers seeking employment in the south. Erdogan is reportedly ready to lift the trade ban on Greek Cypriots and urged Greece and the world community to lift trade restrictions that are economically strangling Turkish Cypriots who have a per capita income of less than one-third of the Greek Cypriots. Despite this gesture, he still insists on the continuation of the two autonomous Cypriot communities. Although Greece has backed Turkey’s bid for EU membership, Turkey still fears that Cyprus, as an EU member, could veto its eventual membership.

Six months after an overwhelming electoral victory, the AKP has disappointed many as its experiment to reconcile Islam and democracy continues to struggle. The party’s inexperience and mistrust of the political establishment have prevented it from reaching many of its reform goals. The authorities’ reported unsatisfactory response to the aftermath of the earthquake on May 1st in the Kurdish majority province of Bingol, similar to past governments’ tardy responses to natural disasters, led to outcries from the opposition and clashes between police and local demonstrators who were protesting shortages of tents, food, and other emergency supplies.

As expected by many analysts, AKP-driven relations between the secular state and Muslim society have become increasingly strained. This was most evident when the division in parliament caused the recent refusal of the U.S. request to deploy troops within Turkey for the Iraqi campaign. AKP’s biggest challenge remains the powerful military, which is very wary of further reforms that would challenge its influence as the proud guardian of Turkey’s secular traditions.

AKP carries the heavy baggage of the Islamic movement’s previous failed attempt at democratic leadership. Erdogan’s former mentor, Necmettin Erbakan, who also promised to respect the republic’s secular system, found himself deposed by the military just two years after becoming prime minister in 1997. Erdogan and others abandoned Erbakan and established AKP on a political platform of democratic reforms with the goal to achieve EU membership. The spotlight is also now on the AKP to see whether it will act on its promise to pursue incomplete IMF dictated structural reforms that were previously agreed to by the former government. Those reforms range from mass privatization to direct foreign investment schemes designed to eliminate two of Turkey’s chronic ailments: the suffocating debt trap and double-digit inflation levels.
Such an overhaul is paramount for Turkey to satisfy the EU’s economic conditions, in addition to political criteria for membership. It remains to be seen how successful the Ergodan government will be in those efforts. We expect it to be a long road to climb.

Editor: Dr. Scott B. MacDonald, Sr. Consultant

Deputy Editors: Dr. Jonathan Lemco, Director and Sr. Consultant and Robert Windorf, Senior Consultant

Associate Editor: Darin Feldman

Publisher: Keith W. Rabin, President

Web Design: Michael Feldman, Sr. Consultant

Contributing Writers to this Edition: Scott B. MacDonald, Jane Hughes, Marc Faber, Jonathan Lemco, Russell Smith, Andrew Thorson and Robert Windorf

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