New Europe?Late Thursday night, the European Council approved, as widely expected, the Commission’s recommendation to open membership negotiations with Turkey, largely without imposing additional conditions to be met prior to the beginning of the talks on October 3, 2005. “The time to start negotiations with Turkey has come,” Commission President Jos? Manuel Barroso said. Council President, Dutch Prime Minister Jan Peter Balkenende, will discuss the EU proposals Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish Prime Minister, over breakfast on Friday.
The early council decision followed reports that Mr Erdogan had offered at least some indirect form of recognition of the Republic of Cyprus, possibly already on Friday. Since the island’s entry into the EU on May 1, 2004, the Greek-Cypriot Republic is the only recognized representation of the Island for the EU and its member states. Despite the obvious need to recognize the Republic of Cyprus at some point, Turkey tried to use the political capital created by the Greek-Cypriot rejection of the UN’s proposed reconciliation process for the divided island. Now it seems Turkish agreement to include the Republic in the current trade-agreement with the EU is considered an implicit recognition and regarded as sufficient for the time being, particularly as most heads of government are clearly keen to reduce the public salience of the highly controversial “Turkish-question” on their national political agendas as much as possible.
But of course, the issue will certainly reappear after this summit, as it has in the past, particularly in those countries that will ratify the European Constitution by referendum. But the debate is unlikely to be as harsh and divided as it is now. After all, the negotiations will last for at least ten years, probably 15. Had anyone predicted just 15 years ago, that, by 2004, most Eastern European countries would be members of the European Union, he would have been the subject of public ridicule. We should have realized by now that a lot can happen in 15 years. And that’s why an official inclusion of a possible “backup status” for Turkey would have been nothing but a public humiliation, mostly for domestic political gain. Of course there will be a backup proposal, if, along the way, one – or both – parties decide that full membership for Turkey may no longer be desirable. After all, at that point, Turkey will already have implemented a significant part of the acquis communautaire.
And, of course, however hard this may be to swallow for Turkey, and how much cognitive dissonance the Turkish public may feel when the EU-euphoria will have settled and be complemented by the realization that most of the acquis is not at all negotiable, and that Turkish compliance will be monitored more closely than was the case in previous rounds of enlargements. Actually, even mostly technical EU entry negotiations have been called ‘soft colonization’ by candidate countries. And in the case of Turkey, paragraphs are just politics in disguise.
Turkish membership will be a tough sell to large minorities, if not pluralities, in most current member states, as the costs and benefits of Turksih membership are of very distinct nature and thus hard to compare, as Heinz Kramer of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP) explains in a well written primer regarding the possible consequences of last night’s decision, which he presented at a conference about “Changing Parameters in U.S.-German-Turkish Relations: Future Scenarios” in Berlin last September.
“Another peculiarity that makes Turkish accession different from past rounds of enlargement is its almost exclusive justification by strategic considerations alone. Turkey is touted to the European public as a state whose membership would considerably increase the EU’s potential as a strategic actor in global politics.
This could be in its function as a ‘bridge’ to or a ‘model’ for the Islamic world that would greatly enhance the chances for avoiding a clash of civilization. Its role could also be that of a pivotal state in the future development of the Greater Middle East, including a possible role in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Another asset connected to Turkey’s EU membership is its strategic location with respect to Europe’s future energy supplies from the Middle East and, more importantly, from the Caspian region. And last but not least, Turkish membership is expected to make a fundamental contribution in turning the Eastern Mediterranean area into a zone of enhanced security. Even with regard to domestic security issues, Turkey is advocated by some as a perfect model for the development of a ‘Euro-Islam’ that could contribute to the alleviation of domestic tensions between Muslim and non-Muslim populations in certain EU member states.
In contrast to such arguments, there are hardly any references to potential economic or identity-related advantages that may be tied to Turkey?s accession. Turkey is expected neither to greatly enhance the EU?s wealth or welfare nor to make an important contribution to the ?reunification of Europe.?
Although the last paragraph seems intuitively correct today, I am not entirely certain about the long run. And even in 2004, two of the most notable contributions to German cinema this year are the result of second and third generation ethnic Turkish immigrants’ creativity. “S?perseks“, a small production, deals with the cultural ramifications of establishing a phone sex hotline for Turkish guest-workers staffed with Turkish women, in a tight-knit immigrant community. And Fatih Akin’s “Gegen die Wand” (“Head-On” – against the wall) – a film about the unusual love story of a young ethnic Turkish woman, and an older, disillusioned, Germanized Turk that begins as a convenience marriage allowing her to break out of her parental prison and enjoy the bright lights of Hamburg only to end tragically in Istanbul – managed to win the Berlinale film festival as well as – just last weekend – the European Film Award.
Quite apart from the fundamental question whether Turkish membership is desirable – and there are many good reasons for both positions -, there are plenty of reasons why the negotiations could fail along the way. Personally, I do believe that both sides will find it more convenient to settle for something less than full membership eventually.
Accordingly, my answer to all those who fear the end of the EU should Turkey enter would have be that such a opinion clearly depends on one’s personal concept of the EU. For those who see, above the treaties, une certaine id?e de l’Europe that is embodied by the words “ever closer union” the accession of Turkey will not herald “the end”, even if it might cause shifts, perhaps even seismic shifts, within the core of the political consensus that has allowed the EU to evolve into a supranational, regulatory state-like institution. These three words are, in my opinion, why it is so hard for everyone to even think about European “finalities”. The EU will not, and cannot be a state as we know it, but the nature of the Union is continually evolving, not static. By searching for European finalities, we may well miss what is most important.
No one knows what the future may bring. But it was the right thing to officially start talking about it now.