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Game, set… to Turkey

Posted by Richard Friday, September 24, 2004

With the news that Turkey has again "pulled" its highly controversial law on adultery – for the second time in as many weeks - I am just beginning to suspect that Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Turkey's prime minister, might have pulled a fast one, and finally bounced the commission into accepting his country's application to join the EU.

In an earlier Blog, I expressed the view that it was a mystery why the Turkish government sought to introduce a law which it must have known would offend the EU member states and, for as long as it was in force, rule out the Turkey’s entry to the EU, also observing that, by so rapidly shelving the law, Ankara caught the protesters off guard, and actually enhanced its chances of getting a favourable decision in October.

When the government then made moves towards restoring the law, in not so much a U-turn as a roundabout, it looked like the game was over – except that Erdogan was due to meet Günter Verheugen, the EU's enlargement commissioner, in last-ditch talks in Brussels yesterday, to see if there was any chance of salvaging the deal. And what better ploy than for Erdogan than to offer a massive and obvious painful concession, putting his opposition on the back foot?

Certainly, Turkey has invested enormous capital in seeking entry into the EU. It actually made its first application in July 1959, not so very long after the creation of the EEC – ten years before even the UK had thought about joining.

Since then, Turkey’s experience has been one fob-off after another, having to be content with an agreement of association, signed in November 1963 (called the Ankara Agreement) which laid the foundation for the establishment in three phases of a customs union which would serve as an instrument to bring about integration between the EEC and Turkey.

Over forty years of unbroken persistence later, and Turkey is still in the waiting room so it did seem incredible that its government was prepared to throw away all that hard work on such an issue as an adultery law.

If brinkmanship was Erdogan's game, however, it has paid off spectacularly. Verheugen has reacted to the concession by "praising Mr Erdogan's commitment" and promising that "no remaining outstanding obstacles remain on the table". The way is now clear for Verheugen to "make a very clear recommendation" on 6 October on whether Turkey is ready to start formal talks.

Banking on an obdurate Turkey to give them the excuse they need to reject her, the "colleagues" seem to have been caught without a back-up excuse for denying her entry, and will have to concede the game. Although Erdogan may not be out of the woods yet, but he has certainly made more progress than many expected. He has not won the match but it is certainly game and set to Turkey.