Bağış: Europe’s crisis main, but temporary, obstacle in ties with Turkey

Turkey's top EU negotiator is sounding hopeful about the long-term relations between »»

Turkey's top EU negotiator is sounding hopeful about the long-term relations between Ankara and Brussels, while underlining that the current stalemate in these relations stems from the current crisis that Europe is undergoing.

“First of all, the confusion in minds should be removed; minds should open up in the first place,” State Minister Egemen Bağış, Turkey's chief negotiator for EU talks, told Today's Zaman when asked how the serious deadlock in Turkey-EU relations with regards to the opening of negotiation chapters could be overcome.

“As long as minds do not open up, physical deadlocks will always appear in front of us. The EU should get rid of its prejudices and fears,” Bağış said in a written statement in response to questions from Today's Zaman. “These [obstacles] will by all means be overcome. I believe this,” added a confident Bağış.

“One of the biggest sources of paranoia for the EU was the assumption that EU countries would encounter an intense wave of migration if Turkey's became an EU member,” Bağış said, recalling that it was the EU itself that recently declared this “groundless paranoia.”

The minister was apparently referring to the results of a recent Eurobarometer survey -- a series of surveys regularly performed on behalf of the European Commission since 1973 -- which revealed that 70 percent of young people do not want to work in EU countries.

According to Bağış, the reason for such a result was the fact that Turkey has become far more attractive than a lot of EU countries due to an increase in its democratic standards and economic growth, and the fact that such a picture has also brought more self-confidence to citizens of Turkey.

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.

Back in 2005 hasty remarks from top European figures following two referenda in which French and Dutch voters rejected the EU constitution had pointed to Turkey and its EU bid as a reason for the failure; yet results of several polls conducted in the two countries in the aftermath of the referenda showed that Turkey had in fact been used as a scapegoat for the failure.

At the time two Flash Eurobarometer polls clearly revealed that Turkey's EU bid did not play a major role in the failure of the EU constitution in referenda in France and the Netherlands.

“Our efforts on the issue of visa-free travel for our citizens have also yielded fruit, and the EU has announced it will facilitate the procedure. From July on, Turkish citizens will be able to get visas with fewer documents and less money,” Bağış said, adding that he has been confident that the process would shortly result in visa-free travel for Turkish citizens.

“The more we are determined, the easier they notice the reality. And when they see the reality, first the obstacles are being loosened, and then removed,” he said.

 

Amid the political stalemate, Turkey and the EU failed to open talks on any chapter throughout the second half of 2010. In January of this year, Bağış stated that if Turkey eventually concludes that opening the competition chapter, one of the 35 policy areas of membership talks with the EU, poses risks to its economy, then it may decide to delay efforts to open this chapter.

The competition chapter is one of the three chapters currently able to be opened; the previous six-month-long rotating Belgian presidency of the EU ended on Jan. 1 without opening any chapter on negotiations, with both the Turkish and the EU-Belgian sides citing technical reasons for the delay on the competition chapter.

‘Determination and discernment'

In February, EU ministers approved a deal with Turkey on the readmission of illegal immigrants but refrained from authorizing the European Commission to begin talks with Ankara on visa liberalization for Turkish nationals, calling instead for an ambiguous “visa dialogue.”

At the time, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu made it crystal clear that the decision of the EU ministers is far from meeting Turkey's expectations and reiterated that Ankara would not put into effect the agreement on the readmission of illegal immigrants unless the EU launches talks that are aimed at visa liberalization.

Bağış recalled that Turkey had passed through a similar process at the time in order to be able to get a clear date from the EU for start of membership negotiations.

“The same kind of obstacles and the same kind of prejudices were exposing Turkey to a different treatment [than the other candidate countries]. But of course, at the time, our side was also failing to fulfill many requirements. Today's determination and discernment by our side could not be displayed back then,” Bağış said in an apparent reference to previous governments before the Justice and Development Party (AK Party) took power in the autumn of 2002.

On several occasions, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has blamed the previous governments for not making any noteworthy progress for Turkey's EU bid until the AK Party came to power in 2002, which was followed in December 2004 with an EU summit decision giving the go-ahead for opening membership negotiations with Turkey in October 2005.

At the December 2004 summit of the EU in Brussels, Erdoğan had given EU leaders a classic lesson in haggling, at one point bluntly threatening to leave if he didn't get what he wanted -- but for some the hard-nosed approach left a bitter aftertaste. Ankara and the EU had then reached a deal on the start of membership talks after a charged discussion concerning the divided island of Cyprus, which, at one point, saw Erdoğan walk away from the negotiating table.

2011-06-02

Diplomacy