When the European Commission recommended on October 9 that nine countries be admitted to the EU but not Turkey, most Turks were not surprised. While the popular view is that a Muslim country is not wanted in the Union in any circumstances, Ankara believes that it did enough on August 3 to qualify as a member when it approved the reforms demanded . It will therefore press the EU to open formal accession talks at the EU summit meeting at Copenhagen on December 12. But if the summit adopts the recommendations, as expected, the snub to Turkey could turn out to be a blessing. It is certain to remind many Turks that their place is in the Muslim world, thus strengthening the hand of Islamically-oriented groups and parties.
Turkey began its efforts to join European institutions in 1963, when it applied to join the EEC. It has been a member of NATO for many years, while most of the ten set to be admitted were members of the Soviet Union and the Warsaw pact. Cyprus, which is divided into Turkish and Greek areas, is being recommended to join without consultation with Ankara, which insists that the status of the island must be settled first. That explains why the EU Commission’s rebuff is described as a “double snub” in the Western media, which mostly believe that Ankara will not be offered an accession date regardless of reforms. Another reason for denying it admission is the cost to the EU that membership of such a poor country would involve. A report in the Financial Times also quotes an EU commission official as saying that “many member states see the EU as a Christian club”.
But the cost of excluding Turkey and turning it against the West could be even greater: a prospect that has led the Commission to recommend an aid package as a sweetener. The same prospect has also led the US and Britain to urge the EU to reward Turkey for the reforms it has already carried out.
Britain has suggested that moves should be made to give it a date for accession. Jack Straw, Britain’s foreign secretary, is of the opinion that Ankara has made great progress towards meeting the criteria for accession. Both London and Washington believe that the snub to Ankara will affect the role they wish it to play in their planned attack on Iraq and on the war they are waging against Islamic groups worldwide. Turkey was a member of the coalition forces that invaded Iraq in the second Gulf war (1990-91), and continues to allow allied warplanes to use its bases to ‘monitor’ northern Iraq. Another war against Iraq is almost unthinkable without Turkish participation.
Even Greece, which in the past opposed Turkey’s admission to the EU, is now supporting calls for granting it a date for accession talks. The Greeks are afraid that Ankara will annex the Turkish part of Cyprus. The other nine are: Poland, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovakia, Lithuania, Latvia, Slovenia, Estonia and Malta: all former members of the now-defunct Soviet Union and Warsaw Pact. This means that within a decade they have achieved accession, while Turkey, a member of NATO, has been trying to acquire a similar status since 1963.
It is significant that US and British pressure on the EU is designed to secure for Turkey not membership of the EU club, but only a promise that its application will not be dismissed out of hand. This will enable the Turkish ruling establishment to avoid the humiliation of an outright rejection and to continue to dangle before the Turkish people the prospect of joining a rich club that will allegedly transform the economic future of their country. One concern of Washington and London, which may explain their pressure on the EU, is the effect that a perceived snub to Ankara might have on Turkish voters during parliamentary elections on November 3.
Already the ‘Islamist’ Justice and Development Party (AK) is expected to win the greatest number of seats in the new parliament. Recep Tayyip Erdogan is banned from standing as a candidate for being too Islamic, as are two parties that support the AK. A snub to Turkey by the EU is likely to increase support for the AK and popular backing for the banned Islamic groups. Victory for the AK will give the Copenhagen EU summit further excuses to refuse to give Turkey a date for accession talks. Responding to Ankara’s demand for the Copenhagen summit to set a date for such talks, prime minister Anders Fogh Rasmussen of Denmark said that it was “too early to say... how the situation in Turkey will have evolved by... the summit”, adding that “there are a lot of factors to take into account, including the Turkish elections on November 3.” The irony is that one of the reasons why Bulent Ecevit, the ailing prime minister, finally allowed the early elections to be held on November 3 was to have an effective government in place to negotiate Turkey’s accession to the EU.
The only hope that Turkey had for the EU commission’s recommendations to be wrecked and for the Copenhagen summit to be postponed was dashed when Ireland approved the Nice Treaty on October 21. There was a possibility that the Irish would vote against the treaty, putting it on hold. It seems that the plan to admit the nine candidates by 2004, and allow Romania and Bulgaria to join in 2007, will be implemented, while Turkey, the only Muslim country, will be held at the gates, waiting like a beggar, cap in hand.