Wednesday, December 08, 2004

While the EU wonders what to do ...

Turkey is going to put a severe strain on the EU’s inflexible attitude to its neighbouring countries, more so, in fact, than Ukraine, where Solana has been rushing around to no good purpose.

The problem, as we have mentioned before (once or twice), is that the EU, for all its much vaunted common foreign policy, common security policy, common this and common that, has no policy towards other countries. It can build up structures for itself and it can propose sending peace-building troops (if it can afford them) to create structures in other places. It does not have any substantive policies because it has no common interests (the most important commonality) or common ideas. Gesture politics and empty structure-building can be very dangerous.

With neighbouring countries there are only two options: either they become members or … well, we are not quite sure. We’ll give them some money and ignore them. Had a new policy been inaugurated with the East European countries as soon as they had broken out of the shackles of communism, the EU would not now be in the mess it is in with regards to Ukraine and, especially, Turkey.

Having insisted on membership for the ones that have already come in, it cannot offer anything else to the countries still outside. But Turkey’s membership is impossible for all sorts of political, economic and social reasons. We have reached stalemate.

During the next European Council Summit in Brussels on December 16 – 17 a decision will be taken for a date to open membership negotiations. Perhaps. Even if the date is set, those negotiations will go on for another ten years at least. Who can possibly tell what sort of a predicament will the EU be then?

Meanwhile, President Chirac insists that even when all the negotiations and tortuous agreements have gone through, France must have a referendum on Turkey’s membership. Why France specifically? Well, who knows. Why any member state, in fact, since the new Constitutions is meant to abolish finally all these petty little distinctions? Now you’re asking.

Another problem has emerged, or, rather, come into the foreground again: Cyprus or, to be quite precise, Greek Cyprus, which is the one that is a member state, though it did not vote for the UN peace plan, while Turkish Cyprus did. Confused? Read on.

The Dutch Presidency has asked Turkey to extend its 1963 association agreement with the then EEC to include all ten new member states, that is (Greek) Cyprus, as well. Turkey, in turn, reminded the Dutch Presidency that it was not Greek Cyprus that voted for the plan but the Turkish one. Cyprus (that is Greek Cyprus) is threatening to veto Turkey’s application for membership and, it seems, the Dutch Prime Minister’s negotiations with the Cypriot President have not come up with any solutions.

The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in the meantime, has announced that Turkey has done everything in its powers to qualify for membership and all these additional demands are unfair.

Needless to say, there is an extra complication. Another country has been paying a great deal of attention to all these goings on: Russia. President Putin, who has been travelling round the world, went to Turkey as well. This was a spectacularly high-powered visit. He took several ministers, including Sergei Ivanov, the Defence Minister and Sergei Lavrov, the Foreign Minister (both, incidentally, from the group of siloviki, that is former security services operators). He was also accompanied by the Presidents of the Autonomous Republics of Tatarstan and Ingushetiya, who are uneasily eyeing the spreading conflict (or bloodbath) of Chechnya.

So Putin met President Ahmed Necdet Sezer in Ankara and while we do not exactly know who said what to whom we do know the result: a wide-ranging agreement between the two countries on matters of mutual interest. Some of these have to do with supposed anti-terrorist co-operation; others with energy. Recently, Moscow and Ankara signed an investment protection protocol and gas transportation co-operation accord between Gazprom and Botas. These will boost natural gas exports from Russia via the Black Sea and the projected Trans-Thracian pipeline. It is worth noting that Gazprom is a more or less re-nationalized company that is gradually asserting its control over the whole of Russian gas production.

Naturally, problems between the two countries will remain, not least over Turkey’s relations with the Muslim and oil-rich former Soviet states in Central Asia and the Caucasus. It would like to have a more active role in the troubled Transcaucasian region, while Russia feels that any independent activity on the part of the former Soviet republics is somehow a hostile act towards Russia.

One wonders whether the EU is watching these developments.

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