[email protected]

February 15, 2013, Friday

One more chapter -- but where is the book?

Very few extended works of world literature are composed with the author having only one chapter in mind. If we would now figuratively compare the Republic of Turkey's EU accession talks with writing a classic, we most definitely see a title and as the subject is often rather technical, we have a table of contents preceding chapter one in front of us, too.

However, the book is far from being ready, which is an understatement of sorts. How come? First, there is more than just one author. This particular publication requires that each and every chapter is signed off by two parties, Brussels and Ankara. Second, to make matters even more complicated, “Brussels” is a kind of editor in this regard taking into account the views of 27 nation states on top of its own editorial policy.

Unfortunately, what at first sight should have turned out a bestseller in no time has neither reached the shelves of bookstores or libraries nor has it arrived on the desks of the ministries of European capitals or the European Commission, respectively. What's more, even the writing up of one single chapter took eons, if measuring the entire length of Turkey's EU accession negotiations (from 1959/1963 onwards), not just closing that one chapter.

This week the Republic of France agreed on Ankara opening negotiations about another chapter, and by now you will of course know which book I am talking about: the EU Acquis Communautaire, the “body of assembled EU law” that every current member state -- as well as candidate country before becoming a full member state -- has to comply with. To stay in my literary picture, it consists of 35 chapters, but only one has in principle been written up with a second one (finally!) apparently ready to be opened. Turkey could open almost all others; the other side refrained from allowing it to do just that. To open a negotiation chapter means in laymen's terms to begin the final stage of serious negotiations about a certain EU policy-making area.

So it is noteworthy, indeed, as the opening of Chapter 22 signals a thawing of not only EU-Turkey relations but a better climate for French-Turkish affairs, too. Thus said, I am happy to devote another column to the issue of Turkey's ongoing EU accession negotiations.

What I am worried about, though, is that unless talks about the subject matter of this chapter (regional policies and structural funds) do not begin rather quickly and at the same time at least three to four more chapters are opened before the end of 2013, all newfound momentum will be lost in an instant once again.

Today I wish to let all of us EU commentators stop for one moment from seeing things overly cumbersome and negative as there is enough to be worried about already. With public support for Turkey's eventual accession not necessarily skyrocketing, the news that emerged this week when French and Turkish government ministers met at the sidelines of another event should be cleverly added onto the domestic agenda as a “plus.” Then let us recall that there was widespread coverage of whether the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) could be seen as an alternative to the EU. There is ongoing debate about whether the government has lost all but its most basic level of enthusiasm for membership (an observation I never agreed with as I had a chance to witness quite a remarkable number of EU reforms being implemented albeit at times behind closed doors as being of a mere structural, technical nature). There are not necessarily encouraging signs emanating from the corridors of power in Brussels, either.

And now this: Finally, a clear sign that EU accession is indeed continuing, that Ankara is ready to comply with the EU acquis as and when Brussels so allows and that one of the previous “blockers” of Turkey joining the club seems as if it has changed or is about to change its (EU accession-related) political mind.

What I really hope for and why I am very happy about the fact that Turkey produced its own Progress Report is that Brussels stops being the first-person narrator. In this context, readying a country for EU membership is no one-way communication but should be based on dialogue.

Previous articles of the columnist