Diplomacy: Can Cameron put Turkey on the table?
28 July 2010
In one of his major speeches on Europe, the British prime minister made his strongest endorsement to date for Turkish accession to the EU. While the British press is in general well disposed, the continent, and even some elements of the Turkish press remain dubious about the impact of his declaration.
In his Ankara speech of 27 July, British PM David Cameron expressed anger at the slow pace of negotiations and promised to fight for Turkey's membership of the EU. Former Europe minister for the Labour party Denis MacShane initially welcomes the news in the pages of the Guardian. “David Cameron's adoption of Tony Blair's Turkophile diplomacy in Ankara today should be welcomed,” he writes, reminding readers that it was the former British PM who “single-handedly moved the European council to agree a start date for EU accession negotiations for Turkey.”
However, Cameron faces “a different EU political landscape”, with Germany and France, formerly in favour of the Blair initiative, now downright hostile to Turkey joining the EU. MacShane points out that “Cameron's decision to walk out of the main centre-right political group where Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, plus most other ruling EU parties, confer means that Britain's voice is absent in the key EU political debate on Turkey.”
Dishonest, humiliating treatment
Turkey is also hobbling its own chances, he argues. “Yesterday Turkey's trade minister said Turkey would flout, indeed bust, EU sanctions against Iran. Is this helpful on Ankara's part when it want to get closer to the EU?” There also remains the perennial Cyprus question: “Turkey manages to turn the Cyprus pebble in its shoe into a cactus in its pants by refusing to meet legitimate Cypriot concerns halfway.” Nevertheless, he notes that “EU big nation Turkophobes hide behind Greek and Cypriot manoeuvring on the Cypriot issue.”
British Conservative MEP Daniel Hannan in the Daily Telegraph greets the Cameron speech and blasts the EU for “its dishonest, humiliating treatment” of the populous Muslim neighbour. Turkish membership, he argues is “strategically valuable: a way to bolster the world's chief Muslim democracy and perhaps, in the process, to dilute Euro-federalism.”
Why tie yourself to a shrinking part of the world economy?
Since accession negociations began in October 2005 however, Brussels has done nothing but “dangle false promises”. “It has made them accept humiliating reforms, ranging from the status of minorities to the history of the 1915 Armenian massacres. It chides them as authoritarian when they restrict the symbols of Islamic devotion, and chides them as fundamentalist when they don't.”
But “if I were Turkish,” writes the Eurosceptic MEP, “I would be against EU membership. Turkey is a dynamic country with – in marked contrast to the EU – a young population. The last thing it needs is the 48-hour week, the Common Agricultural Policy, the euro and the rest of the apparatus of Brussels corporatism. Why tie yourself to a shrinking part of the world economy when you have teeming new markets to your east?”
The “scenic route” to Brussels
A sceptical Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung picks apart the Cameron contention that a country which is a member of the Nato coalition fighting in Afghanistan should be asked to "guard the camp but not be allowed to sit inside the tent". If Nato membership is criteria for membership, “the EU should admit Canada as well – and the Americans too. Both of them have more than less in common with Europe; and from a geographical point of view Turkey has only a tiny piece which is 'European'. But seriously: Why does Cameron actually believe – and with what verve – that he can overstretch the EU without any danger? Dissent between the British and Paris and Berlin is huge – and this key element cannot be bypassed."
Writing in Istanbul daily Zaman, Amanda Paul notes that “The road so far has been full of potholes, meaning Turkey is taking the “scenic route” rather than the “autoroute” to Brussels.” Key member states, she points out, may well consider Turkey a valued partner of great strategic importance, at the same time they believe it is just too different. “Apparently, the EU slogan “strength in diversity” does not apply to Turkey,” she quips.
EU and Turkey on a rollercoaster ride
Will the Cameron speech deliver anything? “Turkey may ask him to prove his words are more than lip service. This could be done by, for example, pushing him on the issue of Cyprus.” But the problem, she argues, is that even with the best will in world, negative perceptions of Turkey, in a process of “massive transformation” will almost always prevail. “Turkey is predominantly viewed as a nice place to go on vacation but absolutely not the sort of country we would want as part of our club.”
“The EU and Turkey,” she writes, “are on a rollercoaster ride. There have been many ups and downs, with many more to come. Unfortunately, roller coasters never go anywhere; they are destined to keep going around and around with the odd stop in between. This may also prove to be the case with Turkey-EU relations”.