‘Accession’ back in EU lexicon but Ankara wants chapters not words

‘Accession’ back in EU lexicon but Ankara wants chapters not words

Turkey's EU Minister and Chief Negotiator Egemen Bağış (PHOTO: MEHMET ALİ POYRAZ)

December 09, 2012, Sunday/ 00:06:00

The A-word -- accession, which has been missing in EU papers on Turkey for the last five years due to strong opposition from former French President Nicolas Sarkozy -- will be back in the EU-Turkey dictionary this week as EU leaders are trying to hammer out the part on Turkey in the final communiqué for the upcoming summit.

Ankara, however, seems to be unimpressed by the return of the word. Turkish EU boss Egemen Bağış told Today's Zaman that the re-entry of the word is “neither a gesture nor a privilege, and no one should interpret this as an opening or a new situation.” In a strong warning to Brussels, Bağış pointed out that there was not one single chapter opened in the last five term presidencies and that relations between Ankara and Brussels could not afford another term presidency without launching a chapter in talks. “We reject any form of discrimination and do not ask for any special treatment,” he said.

The draft, which will be discussed by the General Affairs Council on Tuesday and is expected to be approved by EU leaders on Dec. 13-14 in Brussels, will again include the word “accession” and call on both parties to hasten the negotiations. “It is in the interest of both parties that accession negotiations regain momentum soon, ensuring that the EU remains the benchmark for reforms in Turkey,” the draft is expected to say.

Commenting on the return of the “A” word, an unimpressed Bağış warned Europeans not to have the illusion that Turkey would ever bargain on the accession perspective. The EU minister noted that all EU member countries agreed on the decision taken back in 2004 to start accession talks with Ankara and that the only goal was nothing else but accession. Referring to France, Bağış said whether “a member country uses the ‘A' word or not does not change the reality.” “There is an expectation that France will change its stance on negotiations after the change of administration in the country,” said Bağış. Turkish diplomats disappointed by the lack of any commitment from France after Francois Hollande was elected last May say there is still no concrete signal from Paris that it will lift its veto on five chapters put in place by Sarkozy in 2007 immediately after he was elected president. EU diplomats argue that the word “accession” was returned to papers on Turkey with the blessing of France and should be construed as a positive signal. Almost half of the 35 chapters are still blocked due to opposition from France and the Greek Cypriot administration. No chapter has been opened in the last two-and-a-half years, since the end of the Spanish presidency in June 2010.

Bağış argued that no other candidate has been treated like Turkey in the EU enlargement history, calling on France to lift its veto on five chapters. “The ball is in the court of France and the EU. We hope the French will do the right thing,” said the EU minister. The draft seen by Today's Zaman will make a strong call to speed up the negotiation process. “It is in the interest of both parties that accession negotiations regain momentum soon, ensuring that the EU remains the benchmark for reforms in Turkey.” It also underlines the need for a credible process by stating, “The potential of the EU-Turkey relationship can be fully tapped only within the framework of an active and credible accession process that respects the EU's commitments and established conditionality.”

While the draft commends Turkey for its active foreign policy, economy and work on a new constitution, it says it is getting increasingly concerned about the lack of progress in fulfilling the political criteria. The draft is also quite strong on Cyprus, and almost all the demands of the Greek Cypriot administration are reflected in the draft. The Greek Cypriot administration is the term president of the rotating presidency of the European Council. It will remain in this post through the end of December. The basic topics of the draft include the following:

Foreign policy:The council acknowledges the important regional role of Turkey and its active involvement in its wider neighborhood and welcomes the intensification of the regular political dialogue between the EU and Turkey. In this regard, the council remains committed to the further enhancement of the existing political dialogue between the EU and Turkey on foreign policy issues of common interest, such as the developments in North Africa, the Syrian crisis and the Middle East, the Gulf, the Western Balkans, Afghanistan/Pakistan, the Southern Caucasus and the Horn of Africa. The council recognizes Turkey's role on Syria, in particular with regard to support provided to Syrians fleeing violence across the border.

Economy:The council recalls that Turkey's dynamic economy provides a contribution to the prosperity of the whole European continent. With its close trade and investment links with the EU, Turkey remains a valuable part of Europe's competitiveness.

Constitution:The council takes good note of Turkey's commitment to the political reform agenda. It strongly encourages Turkey's work on a new constitution and the broad, democratic and participatory process put in place for this purpose, which will remain essential for a positive outcome. The constitutional reform should provide a useful framework for several important reform efforts, notably with regard to the Kurdish issue.

Concern on political criteria:The council welcomes a number of positive developments in the area of democracy and the rule of law such as the establishment of an ombudsman and a National Human Rights Institution, measures taken in the field of women's rights and gender equality, the adoption of the third judicial reform package and civilian oversight of the security forces. At the same time, the council notes with growing concern the lack of substantial progress towards fully meeting the political criteria. Building on recent legislative improvements, the council calls on Turkey to further improve the observance of fundamental rights and freedoms in law and practice, in particular in the area of freedom of expression and to enhance its efforts to implement all judgments of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR). The restrictions in practice on the freedom of the media, including a large number of legal cases launched against writers, journalists, academics and human rights defenders, frequent website bans as well as the broad application of legislation on terrorism and organized crime, continue to raise serious concerns that need to be addressed effectively.

Cyprus: The council deeply regrets Turkey's freezing of its relations with the EU presidency during the second half of 2012, the statements made by Turkey in this regard as well as non-alignment with EU positions or statements in international fora.

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