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Wednesday, May 4, 2011

State of play, Turkey-EU relations, part 1

Finally back after a too long hiatus from posting. Have lots of things happened while The TurkEU Blog has been inactive? Not really. At least not on the Turkey-EU front.

There remain, as I see it, a few major stumbling blocs on Turkey's path toward accession. Here they are, not in order of importance:

1. The pace of the Turkish reform process. 
Turkish reforms have undoubtedly been impressive over the course of the past ten or so years, but the pace has been uneven. And we are now arguably in a bit of a lull with respect to the reforms.

Moreover, recent developments on the media front in connection with the Ergonekon and Sledgehammer investigations (I have blogged about this herehere, and here) in Turkey have given ammunition to Turkey-skeptics in the EU about the sincerity of the AKP towards democratic reforms. It is up to the AKP to allay such suspicions, which, by the way, are shared by many secular Turks as well.

2. Cyprus. 
This of course remains a major impediment. See here for a more thorough discussion of the issue. From the EU's point of view, Turkey must sign the according to the Additional Protocol of the Ankara Agreement and give the (Greek Cypriot) Republic of Cyprus access to Turkish ports etc, but euinside (a Bulgarian online media source) reports the Turkish foreign minister as saying that Turkey has given openings on this issue that have not been taken up by the other side. And from the Turkish point of view, Brussels still has not lived up to the promises it gave in 2004.

3. Visa requirements. 
This is a burning issue right now, with Turks upset about visa requirements for Turkish citizens wanting to travel to the EU. Abdullah Gül and several other Turkish politicians have been pushing this issue publicly recently. The Voice of America quotes a Turkish diplomatic correspondent on the sensitivity of this matter:
"Turks are confronted with visas from Europe even though they are many businessmen who do business with Europe. There are thousands of students who go to Europe and Turkey is being treated as a third world country which has nothing but potential illegal immigrants," Idiz said. "For the government , the state and the population this is a demeaning situation."
It is, however, also a demanding situation for the EU side, as this issue gets to the murkier fears that underly much public resistance in the EU to the prospect of Turkish EU accession. VoA again:
joint head of the European Green Party, Daniel Cohn Bendit, says Ankara has to realize what its asking for.

"Opening a free travel is an immense opening. Turkey is a big country," he said. "This is a debate I have had for 10 years with the Turks."
The EU set up a number of criteria (three, as far as I have been able to tell) for the opening of a dialogue on the visa issue, and Turkey now claims that it has reached or made extensive progress on those criteria. The one criteria where Turkey is openly holding out is the signature of what is known as the re-admission agreement, according to which Turkey would accept all undocumented immigrants that enter the EU through Turkey. Turkey is holding off its signing this agreement as leverage in the dispute over visas. Said Selim Yenel, deputy undersecretary for Bilateral Affairs and Public Diplomacy of the Turkish foreign ministry (also in VoA):
Nothing is happening on the visa question and they want us to sign the re-admission agreement. Well sorry that is not going to happen.
There are a few more points to be made, but I will leave this for a second post on the state of play in the negotiations.
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