EU enlargement: Turkey accession still has wings

Turkish woman in front of poster by artist Burak Deiler in central Istanbul (Turkey 2005, AFP).
Turkish woman in front of poster by artist Burak Deiler in central Istanbul (Turkey 2005, AFP).
Referans (Istanbul)

Last weekend’s European elections doled out a Socialist defeat and the victory of centre-right and far-right parties opposed to Turkey’s accession to the EU. Nonetheless, writes the Turkish daily Referans, there are still reasons to hope the accession process will not be stalled.

On the face of it, the election results spell “bad news” for Turkey. While the European left are favourably disposed toward the prospect of Turkish accession, the conservative parties in Germany, France, The Netherlands and Austria are not. In the aftermath of the polls, the scales are now tipping – partially – against Turkey. I deliberately say “partially” because this impression is counterbalanced by the only good news to come from the ballot boxes: namely the increased support in Europe as a whole for the environmentalist parties, which are, by all accounts, sympathetic to Turkey’s European aspirations.

Even if the European Parliament is not kitted out with the requisite prerogatives to stop the accession talks, Turkey ought to be able to read the “winds of change” currently blowing through Europe. It will not have escaped anyone’s attention, to wit, that while Nicolas Sarkozy, notorious for his anti-Turkish statements, has seen his popularity plummet in recent months, his party, the UMP, racked up an ample score in the EP elections. Meanwhile, unfortunately, the French Socialists have been busy flaying one another alive. One could then infer that systematic opposition to Turkey confers an electoral edge in the game of French domestic politics. Except that this hasty conclusion is belied by the electoral breakthrough of the French ecologists, which came despite the pro-Turkish stance of Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the legendary leader of the Greens. So the picture to be painted from these elections cannot be reduced to black and white.

In other words, despite the mounting trend of anti-Turkish sentiment in Europe, Turkey’s accession plans should not be stymied as long as the government resolves to resume its domestic reforms. And this is the gist of the message European Commissioner for Enlargement Olli Rehn, among others, delivered on 9 June in Brussels: “There is no particular reason to worry as long as the legal and political reforms continue.”

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