Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A back-room deal?

The continuing saga of Turkey becomes more bizarre by the day, with the EU Commission now warning that, unless Ankara reforms its penal code to remove the criminalisation of adultery, bringing it into line with "European values", it will recommend on 6 October that accession talks should not go ahead.

It will then be up to the European Council to make the final decision on 17 December 17, as to whether it will agree a starting date for accession talks but, given the hostility to Turkish accession, not least in Germany, the commission's opposition will be just the excuse the member states will need to put the issue on the back-burner.

Yet, despite Turkey’s avowed and long-standing interest in joining the EU, her prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan seems remarkably relaxed about the whole affair, preparing to tell EU commissioner Günter Verheugen to stop meddling in Turkey’s internal affairs.

To back this up, Ankara has signalled that it is not planning any immediate action to change its laws while Justice Minister Cemil Cicek trotted out the time-worn mantra that, "We attach importance to the EU... Everybody knows what efforts we have undertaken" in order to align with EU norms".

The attitude possibly reflects a deep-rooted scepticism in the Turkish government that the EU has any intention of starting accession talks. Said Cicek, "…even if such issue (the spat over adultery) did not exist and the EU still did not give us a date (for accession talks) on December 17, what should we do? We are not supposed to break down and cry. Turkey would continue on its way."

From this distance, it is impossible to know what really is going on, but there is something not quite right in the way the different parties are posturing. There is a smell of a back-room deal here, but, doubtless, it will be some time before we get to find out what it is.

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