Friday, July 06, 2007

Still not talking Turkey

EUObserver reports on the basis of an interview in FT Deutschland that the Enlargement Commissar, Olli Rehn, has warned France that there could be no general debate about Turkey’s possible entry into the European Union.

President Sarkozy, well aware of French public opinion on the matter as well as of the new constitutional provision for a referendum, possibly hopes that if he remains intransigent on this issue, the people of France might ignore the fact that he is trying not to have a referendum on the treaty that is due to come out of the IGC.

To be fair, it is not entirely clear what Sarko envisages when he says that he wants a general debate in the EU about its final borders before December. A general debate between whom, exactly?

The idea is obviously not very popular with the powers that be, debates not being occasions they are particularly fond of. So Commissar Rehn waffled about the accession process being “an anchor for democracy and secularism”, whatever that might mean, and also about Turkey being the transit land for 15 per cent of the EU’s oil and gas.

The last point is yet another attempt to conflate economic agreements with membership of the EU. Turkey can stay outside the European project and still continue to supply any amount of oil and gas. The two do not depend on each other.

The real worry for the Commission is that Turkey may decide that it does not want to join an organization that is so anxious not to have her. (Actually, Groucho Marx’s comment would be more appropriate but that may not be how Turkish politicians see the matter.) That, again, would not be a real problem except for the fact that the European Union, for all its talk of a common foreign policy, has no real idea of how to deal with countries on its borders, except to view them as potential members.

What everyone is particularly afraid of is the possibility of Turkey turning away from the West and of its proud claim of being the only secularist Muslim country and becoming more Islamist. It is hard to tell whether this fear is real. Certainly, the army, the guardian of the Kemalist heritage is on the qui vive as far as the ruling, supposedly Islamist, AK Party is concerned.

On the other hand, apart from the vexed question of Abdul Gül’s wife’s headscarf, there has been little sign of Islamist changes, one reason for that being the outgoing President’s determined blocking of any attempts to introduce them.

Turkey is coming up to a parliamentary election in July 22 and its results are anxiously watched inside and outside the country. On top of that there is the question of the proposed constitutional reform, which would make the presidency electable directly rather than by the parliament, the existing system, which allowed the opposition to block Mr Gül’s attempt to become president.

The government reacted by announcing a decision to hold a referendum on the reform with the opposition appealing to the constitutional court to quash the reform. The court has decided that the idea to hold a referendum was constitutionally acceptable. If the AK Party wins the parliamentary election, a reasonable expectation, the referendum is likely to be in late autumn.

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