It’s Brussels Gonzo, back again – this time as a full member of the team (thank you, David and colleagues). And since my first entry as a guest blogger dealt with Croatia’s membership application, and a later one described the unedifying scenes in the European parliament after their talks failed to start in March, it seems appropriate that my first entry as a regular FoE-er should talk about the linkage between yesterday’s two crucial decisions to start membership talks with Croatia and Turkey. (I hope this doesn’t too much repeat Tobias on the same subject yesterday.)
Appropriate, except that as far as I can tell there is no linkage. Of course, this interpretation of events is difficult to sell to the population from Zagreb to Ankara and all points between, who are addicted to conspiracy theories; but the truth seems to be that these were two separate decisions.
The proof of this is the timing. Carla Del Ponte, for whatever reason, declared to the EU’s Task Force on Croatia (consisting of hardline UK and also the soft-hearted Austrians) that Croatia’s cooperation is now satisfactory and that she expects the fugitive general Gotovina to be handed over very soon, provided the current level of cooperation continues. The Croats, for their part, seem to have been genuinely shocked out of their complacency by their setback in March and have been visibly making moves in their security structures, presumably accompanied by less visible measures as perceived by Ms Del Ponte.
So, on Croatia, the Austrians had got what they wanted on Monday morning; but there was obviously no quid pro quo, as they continued to hold firm to their demands on Turkey for another five hours, before conceding, apparently after threats that the other 24 countries would wreck their presidency if they did not give in.
I have not been able to establish for sure whether the Austrians gained anything much. Der Standard reports that Chancellor Schüssel is “proud” of the result, in that he had managed to establish the EU’s ability to accept Turkey as a precondition of ultimate membership (which is, of course, already one of the Copenhagen criteria), and had also secured a guarantee that there would be no special financial treatment for Turkey (already implicit in the fact that Turkish membership won’t happen before the 2014 financial perspectives have been sorted). It doesn’t sound like much, though SPÖ leader Alfred Gusenbauer described it as “better than nothing”, in that Schüssel had got what he could in the light of his previous mistakes.
Certainly the Turks, who had been pretty clear in December that they would not accept any watering down of the terms and conditions they had thought were agreed at that point, didn’t take too long to read the new negotiating mandate (44k PDF) and decide that it was effectively the same as they had been offered in December. Schüssel’s boast that his demand for alternatives to Turkish membership had been “fully successful” sounds just a little hollow. I’ll leave speculation about the impact on Austrian internal politics, and Austria’s role in the EU, to those who are better informed than I am. But I would not have liked to be Schüssel’s or Plassnik’s press secretary yesterday.
Meanwhile let’s just quietly end by noting that Carla Del Ponte also effectively gave the green light for talks on a Stabilisation and Association Agreement to begin with Serbia and Montenegro. Three important decisions, indicating that the EU is perhaps beginning to recover from post-referendum shock.