Reviving Turkey's stalled EU negotiations requires moves by both sides, experts say.
By Menekse Tokyay for Southeast European Times in Istanbul -- 28/06/11
Resistance from Germany and France has contributed to the current impasse in Turkey's EU accession process. [Reuters]
It has been more than six years since the EU agreed to launch accession negotiations with Turkey. Since that time, only one chapter -- Science and Research -- has been closed.
The rest are in limbo, with Brussels having declared that none can be wrapped up until a deadlock is resolved over opening Turkish ports and airports to traffic from Cyprus.
That is not the only factor, however. Speaking at a European Parliament (EP) conference on June 23rd, the Turkey desk chief at the European Commission Directorate for Enlargement said there are three underlying problems behind the impasse.
These are the slowdown of the reform process, the objection of some EU countries regarding Turkish accession and the Cyprus question, said the official, Jean-Christophe Filori.
Within Turkey, assessments of the situation differ. According to Armagan Emre Cakir, professor of EU Politics and International Relations at Marmara University's EU Institute, the negotiations have not come to a standstill, but rather have only reached a bottleneck.
"The momentum of the negotiations slowed down; but in fact the negotiations started by relatively easy chapters while the difficult ones were deferred," Cakir observes.
Others point to resistance within the bloc to Turkey's accession, particularly from France and Germany.
"The exclusionary discourses of Sarkozy and Merkel are one of the main reasons for the deadlock of the EU agenda for Turkey," says EU-Turkey relations expert Nedim Gursel.
Some doubt entrenched opposition within the bloc will ever be overcome. In that case, they ask, why should Ankara change its policy on Cyprus or bother with reforms aimed at aligning the country with the EU's criteria?
"There is no guarantee that Turkey becomes an EU member as soon as the Cyprus problem is solved," CHP party deputy Onur Oymen argued at the EP conference this month.
Sarkozy's France -- which has blocked five accession chapters -- remains the biggest obstacle, he added.
Katinka Barysch, deputy director at the Centre for European Reform, warns that the EU's leverage may be eroding.
"Turks have a point when they ask why it should implement the difficult steps needed for opening while EU politicians say that Turkey should not become a full member of the club," she said. "Turkey's growing self-confidence as a regional power probably makes many Turks feel that they have an alternative to the EU."
Meanwhile, Barysch added, "the EU looks less appealing now that it is bogged down in the eurozone debt crisis. Neither has the EU's slow and disunited response to the Arab Spring fuelled admiration in Turkey."
In this context, former EU High Representative for Foreign and Security Policy Javier Solana wrote an article for Project Syndicate arguing for a "reset" in Turkey-EU relations.He emphasises the mutual need of Turkey and the EU for each other, while highlighting the increasing economic and political influence of Turkey in its region at a time when the eurozone has undergone a series of crises.
Such a reset would require effort by both sides, veteran diplomat Temel Iskit told SETimes. Turkey, he said, should start by opening its ports to Greek Cypriots. At the same time, however, EU members should act to prevent the Greek Cypriot side from blockading trade with Northern Cyprus.
Both sides are responsible for the current impasse, Iskit said, arguing sufficient political will has not yet been shown.
Barysch agrees. "A re-elected and self-confident Erdogan could have the political courage to unilaterally open a few ports to ships coming from Cyprus. Such a step would reinvigorate the negotiations and put the ball firmly back into the EU's court," she said.