More trouble in store for Turkey's deadlocked EU bid
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan attend a press conference in Ankara. Merkel's conservative coalition has rejected Turkey's EU bid. (Photo: Cihan, Emrullah Bayrak)
Turkey responded defiantly to disconcerting signals that its troubled bid to join the European Union is bracing for yet other setbacks, saying it will not beg anyone to join the 27-nation bloc if it faces new rejection.
Amid European criticism against Turkey over the way it handled anti-government protests, Germany appears to lead efforts to block the Turkish accession process. Germany and the Netherlands have opposed the opening of accession talks between Turkey and the EU on a negotiating chapters while a news report said that German Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative coalition rejects Turkish membership in its program for the upcoming German elections.
“Turkey sees EU membership a strategic goal. We do not accept any formula other than that,” a Foreign Ministry official told Today's Zaman in response to the report that the Christian Democratic Union (CDU) and its Bavarian sister party, the Christian Social Union (CSU) oppose Turkey's membership and want cooperation between the EU and Turkey and strategic collaboration on foreign and security policies instead. “We will not beg anyone to take us in.”
Egemen Bağış, Turkey's EU minister, was more direct in his criticism, saying Turkey could tell some EU countries to “get lost” if it has to.
Bağış, speaking on Wednesday, criticized European countries that oppose moving forward with Turkey's bid to join the EU. “Turkey doesn't need the EU, the EU needs Turkey. If we have to, we could tell them, ‘Get lost, kid!' Yet in the past three years, Turkey has not stepped back from its intention to join the EU,” he said, in reference to a video that went viral among Turkish YouTube users in 2012, in which a garbage man repeatedly tells a taunting teenager to “get lost” before he loses his temper and hits the boy over the head with a broom, sending him fleeing.
The CDU/CSU election program says Turkey would “overburden” the EU because of its size and economy, according to a Reuters report on Tuesday. The two conservative parties have long opposed Turkey joining the 27-nation bloc, but have not tried to stop the EU accession talks that were launched shortly before Merkel took office.
The official said the EU and Turkey opened the accession on the understanding that it will lead to full membership of Turkey and said Germany should have presented its opposition to Turkish accession then.
Merkel has never supported the Turkish accession and promoted instead a “privileged partnership,” a vague formula that includes some sort of close cooperation with Turkey but falls short of full membership.
According to the draft CDU/CSU program seen by Reuters, the parties also dropped use of the term "privileged partnership" to describe their preferred relationship between Turkey and the EU and reiterated their long-standing opposition to its accession instead. "We want strong cooperation between the European Union and Turkey, as well as close strategic collaboration on foreign and security questions," the 125-page draft reads. "We reject full membership for Turkey, because the country does not meet the criteria for joining the EU. The country would overburden the European Union because of its size and the structure of its economy."
Germany has become more vocal in opposing Turkey's membership over the past weeks in parallel to an international wave of criticism of the way the Turkish government handled protests, which first began as an environmentalist sit-in against plans to demolish a city park in Taksim, İstanbul, and quickly turned into anti-government demonstrations across Turkey.
On Monday, Merkel said she was "appalled" at Turkey's handling of the protests. "What's happening in Turkey at the moment is not in line with our idea of the freedom to demonstrate or freedom of speech,” she said.
Harsh reaction in store if talks delayed
Germany is also reportedly blocking accession talks between Turkey and the EU scheduled for later this month because it believes such a move could be considered a “reward” for the Turkish government.
Germany and another ally, the Netherlands, opposed opening accession negotiations with the EU on Chapter 22 of the EU acquis, which regulates regional policies, by the end of this month during technical-level talks meeting in Brussels on Tuesday. Permanent representatives of the EU member countries are expected to meet in Brussels on Thursday, but few expect the talks will result in an agreement to open talks on Chapter 22, EU sources have told Today's Zaman.
Observers say failure to reach an agreement to open the talks before July, when the current Irish term presidency ends, might trigger a drastic backlash from Turkey, which has long complained of a lack of progress in its accession process. It is speculated that the EU failure to go ahead with the talks might even lead to withdrawal of the Turkish permanent representative at the EU, although officials have declined to discuss plans on how to react to a setback on the talks at this stage.
The Foreign Ministry official said Ankara was waiting for the results of the talks among EU member states on whether to open talks on Chapter 22. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Turkey will definitely “respond” to a negative decision that could come out of the EU talks in the coming days, although it is not planning any concrete steps on how to respond at this stage. “We don't know yet whether the German and the Dutch opposition will shape the eventual decision on the talks,” said the official.
Turkey, which began accession talks with the EU in 2005, and the EU last opened talks on a negotiating chapter three years ago, on June 30, 2010, the last day of the Spanish presidency. Turkey has only been able to open 13 out of 35 chapters and temporarily closed one since the talks started on Oct. 3, 2005.
Insisting that there is no obstacle for the opening of talks on Chapter 22, the official said: “We will assess [what response to give] if the EU fails to open the talks on that chapter for whatever reason and it will not be a pleasant situation.”