Turkey shelves EU reforms as accession hopes fade

Turkey shelves EU reforms as accession hopes fade

February 15, 2011, Tuesday/ 17:23:00

With key European Union states showing no sign of relenting in their opposition to Turkey's accession, the government has postponed dozens of laws required to be passed to achieve harmonization with the 27-nation bloc's standards until after the June elections, and even beyond.

Among more than 40 laws that are required to be passed, those involving significant economic costs are particularly unlikely to come to Parliament in the foreseeable future because the government is reluctant to agree to the financial burden without any real prospect for membership. Sources close to the issue estimate the cost of harmonization with EU standards at $60 billion, and the public and private sectors are both expected to be affected. At a time when elections are near, this is a painful concession to make.

Turkey opened accession negotiations with the EU in 2005 but has been able to open talks on only 13 out of 35 chapters thus far. Talks have been provisionally completed only on one chapter. Eight chapters are blocked by the EU due to the Cyprus dispute, while France, which opposes Turkish membership, also blocked talks on five other chapters that it says are directly related to accession. France and Germany oppose Turkey's membership due to cultural differences, and many in the EU fear that Turkish accession will spark an influx of immigrants from Turkey.

The Cyprus dispute is another hurdle to progress in the accession process. Some European politicians say the accession process could come to a halt this year if Turkey does not make significant concessions on Cyprus. Turkey has no intention of doing so, saying the EU should keep its promise to allow trade with the Turkish Cypriots and should pressure the Greek Cypriots, who enjoy membership benefits within the EU, to do more to work out a solution in peace talks with the Turkish Cypriots.

Amid the political stalemate, Turkey and the EU failed to open talks on any chapter throughout the second half of 2010. Officials say there is a good chance that the first six months of 2011 may also witness no chapters being opened as Turkey is reluctant to pass a law to monitor state financial assistance that the EU says is a condition for the opening of talks on the competition policy chapter because that will present huge costs for the public and private sectors. Officials say talks on the competition policy chapter usually open near the date of accession because the costs the candidate country will have to incur are partly compensated for by the benefits of membership, a prospect that is painfully lacking in Turkey’s case.

In 2010, Parliament did not enact any laws to achieve harmonization with EU standards despite plans outlined in a national EU reform strategy document, the National Program, to enact a total of 17 harmonization laws in 2010-2011. Two laws, the new Code of Obligations and the Turkish Commercial Code, were passed in January. Another harmonization law regulating the duties and responsibilities of the Court of Accounts (TCA) has also been passed but not in line with EU expectations. Due to several last-minute changes made to the law, the reform failed to establish full civilian supervision over military expenditures.

Instead, the government focused on a constitutional reform package in the past months and is now expected to pass several laws to bring relevant legislation in line with the now revised Constitution. This will be a major agenda item for Parliament after the June 12 elections as well, and it is not clear whether Parliament has any plans to add EU harmonization laws to its post-election workload.

Rather, the government’s strategy consists of focusing on political reforms that will expand rights and freedoms while incurring little financial cost. Laws on judicial reform are among those low-cost reforms, but it is not easy to pass them, either, given strong opposition to many planned laws from the opposition or the judiciary itself.

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