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May 20, 2012, Sunday

‘Positive agenda’ from the EU most welcome

François Hollande's victory in the presidential elections in France was celebrated not only in Turkey in general but also among those who are in favor of Turkey's further integration with the European Union.

That former President Nicolas Sarkozy argued that there was no place for Turkey in Europe and pursued a policy in line with that position had created considerable negative sentiment in Turkey.

There is now hope that President Hollande, following the parliamentary elections next month, will lift the blockade on five chapters of the acquis Sarkozy had suspended (arguing they would lead towards full membership), and that term president Denmark will open talks with Turkey on at least one before July 1, when South Cyprus takes over the term presidency. As it stands, out of a total of 35 chapters to be negotiated in the accession talks, only 13 have so far been opened (with one provisionally closed), a total of 17 chapters are suspended by the European Council (in response to Turkey not extending the customs union to Cyprus), France and Cyprus, and none of the remaining chapters was opened during the last two years, bringing talks to a halt.

Last Sunday the victory of German Social Democrats in North Rhine-Westphalia against Christian Democrats led by Chancellor Angela Merkel, who together with Sarkozy was in favor of offering “privileged partnership” to Turkey, was also cause for celebration for the pro-Europeans in Turkey. In case the Social Democrats, who advocate full membership for Turkey when it fulfills the criteria, return to power with general elections to be held next year, a new page may open in EU-Turkey relations. It was the Social Democratic-Green coalition government in Germany which led the way to Turkey's candidacy in the EU in 1999.

The European Commission, which, in contrast to most national governments, has a long-term perspective of the European integration, has been the most consistent advocate of Turkey's accession to the EU. An initiative dubbed “positive agenda” designed by the enlargement commissioner, Stefan Füle, last fall to overcome the blockage in accession talks was launched last week in Ankara. The initiative aims at reviving the accession process by establishing eight working groups to work towards deepening cooperation in certain areas, including energy, visa liberalization, human rights, judicial reform, constitutional reform, trade ties, counterterrorism and foreign policy.

Another remarkable event in the context of Turkey-EU relations last week was the visit to Turkey of the leader of Germany's Liberal Democrats in a coalition government with the Christian Democrats. Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, in a press conference with his Turkish counterpart, Ahmet Davutoğlu, said: “What is important is to seize the opportunity that emerged after the latest elections in Europe and restart EU-Turkey ties,” leading Davutoğlu to counter by saying, “What we all hope for is a positive acceleration of Turkey-EU relations following Mr. Hollande's election in France.”

Westerwelle, in a talk he gave at the 14th Kronberg conference held in İstanbul on May 15, highlighted Turkey's achievements in both economic and political fields during the recent years, and suggested initiatives to enhance not only bilateral relations between Turkey and Germany but also cooperation of the two in improving EU-Turkey relations and in foreign policy issues. Westerwelle's remarks seemed to be an indication of a favorable attitude concerning relations with Turkey growing among European political circles.

What Hélène Flautre, co-chair of the Joint EU-Turkey Committee in the European Parliament, wrote in an article published last week was also remarkable in this context. Flautre claimed that Le Monde's headline upon Hollande's victory, “Le changement, c'est maintenant” (Time for change) referred even to relations between France and Turkey. She strongly called on the new French government to support Turkey's accession process, and concluded with the following remarks: “I am now happy not only with the change in France, but also with watching Turkey trying to write a new constitution, confronting its history, trying to face up to incidents like Dersim and developing exciting political dynamics. And I do not know if there is any luckier political position in Brussels than being a French deputy responsible for policy on Turkey.” (Today's Zaman, May 14, 2012)

It seems that Turkey's friends in Europe, alarmed by the stalled talks with Turkey, are exerting efforts to help save relations from total derailment, even under such adverse conditions as the worsening economic crisis and ensuing rise in Islamophobia and Turcophobia in Europe. Ankara should reciprocate, and strengthen the hand of its friends in Europe. There is absolutely nothing to lose for Ankara by opening its sea and air ports to South Cyprus vessels. It can, on the contrary, benefit much from this.

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