Wednesday, May 02, 2007

The worse it gets…

Although none of them would be rash enough to admit it, not a few leaders (and potential leaders) of European Union countries must be mightily pleased with developments in Turkey.

With the constitutional court having overturned the first parliamentary vote for Gül and Recep Tayyip Erdogan calling for an early general election, with the brooding might of the Turkish Army in the background – and public unrest growing all the time - the "colleagues" will be able to sit back and pronounce that, sadly, Turkey is not yet ready for membership,

The IHT gives a flavour of the arguments that will be deployed, citing Dutch MEP Joost Lagendijk, agreeing that the court had the power to take action on the issue. But he then declares: "of course there will always be a stain on this decision from the Constitutional Court because it's under enormous pressure from the army … we'll never know whether this decision was made on purely legal grounds or whether it is a right decision."

The MEP then goes on to say that, if there is another new election and the army acts to shape the outcome, "the question will be, What sort of country is this?" Hedging his bets, he then adds, "For the moment, it's hard to use this as an argument against Turkey's accession. There's nothing that Europe can argue against that."

That is "for the moment". Officials in Germany, still holding the EU presidency, "are continuing to monitor developments," but you can bet that every nuance is being examined and the platitudes are being rehearsed for when the joyous day comes and the book can be slammed shut on this unwelcome enlargement.

José Manuel Barroso, commission president, isn't even waiting that long. "We hope that one day Turkey can join the European Union," he says, and then comes the big "but", pregnant with meaning. "But for that, Turkey has to be a real European country, in economic and political terms, and not a country that adds, let's say, standards not at the level that we have in the European Union."

What the EU says it wants cannot, of course, be achieved. It wants the military to remain in the barracks, but on the other hand, it wants Turkey to remain a secular state. And, if the situation deteriorates, as many of the "colleagues" hope it will, they are on to a win-win situation. If the Army intervenes, the book is closed. If the country lurches towards an Islamic theocracy and starts to claw back on the reforms that Erdogan has so painfully brokered, the book is closed.

All this makes you wonder what Erdogan is really playing at. Over the years, he has successfully used the leverage of EU membership to force through his reforms, so it seems odd that he should be putting all his hard-won work at risk by pushing Gül forward for the presidency. He is too canny a politician not to have known what the effect might have been.

Speigel online offers some analysis – as does the British media, but one cannot help but feel that there is a lot more to this crisis than has yet emerged. Such are the nuances that it would probably take someone immersed to Turkish politics to hazard a guess as to what is really going on.

Nuances, however, will not be the EU's game. It will be looking for those vital shut-off points so, as far as the "colleagues" are concerned, the worse it gets, the better it gets.

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