31 August 2005
Start EU Negotiations With Turkey!
By Martti Ahtisaari and Albert Rohan
Op-Ed, Le Figaru

It comes as no surprise that Turkish people feel increasingly disappointed by the widely reported hesitations of some European decision-makers to open accession negotiations with Turkey on 3rd October as foreseen. There has always been a segment of Turkish public opinion convinced that their country would never be accepted into Europe and that every time Turkey came closer to EU membership new obstacles would be erected. Some of us have tried to persuade Turkish friends to have greater trust in the European Union, a club of honourable countries that respect their commitments. Soon it will transpire, whether this confidence was well placed.

On 17th December of last year the European Council decided to open accession negotiations with Turkey on 3rd October 2005. Two conditions were put to the Turkish Government: a comprehensive legal reform destined to reinforce the rule of law and human rights and the signing of the Adaptation Protocol of the Ankara Agreement which extends the customs union with the EU to all new member states, including the Republic of Cyprus. The legal reform entered into force on 1st June, the Protocol was signed on 29th July. Turkey has thus fulfilled the Council's conditions.

A formal recognition by Turkey of the Republic of Cyprus, including its extension to the Northern part of the island, was not requested as precondition for the opening of accession negotiations. This is a complex matter related to the efforts by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to negotiate a comprehensive settlement leading to the reunification of the island. Last year both Turkey and the Turkish-Cypriot community had accepted the Secretary General's proposals, which were, however, rejected by the Greek-Cypriot side. There is every reason to expect Mr. Annan to resume his good offices soon and to bring the question to a positive conclusion well before Turkey's possible entry into the EU around 2015. The Cyprus issue should therefore not be construed as an obstacle to the opening of negotiations.

The same is true of the reported intention of some Governments to have the so called "Privileged Partnership" concept explicitly included in the negotiating framework as alternative to full membership. This proposal has also been discussed at last December's European Council meeting and was rejected, resulting in a reference to "open-ended negotiations" in the Council's conclusions. Such wording, which has never been used in previous enlargement rounds, may have somewhat ruffled Turkey's feathers, but was finally accepted as constructive ambiguity so often used in international diplomacy.

The very nature of accession negotiations makes it obvious that full membership must be the goal. Without that prospect no candidate country would go through the painful process of adopting tens of thousands of rules and regulations, the EU's "Acquis Communautaire". To ensure that it does, is, after all, the main purpose of accession talks. Moreover, it is difficult to imagine, what advantages could be offered to Turkey in the framework of a "Privileged Partnership" beyond its long-time status as Associate Member of the EU. The Customs Union concluded ten years ago allows free trade for all but agricultural goods, Turkey is invited to Council meetings, it can participate in various EU programmes and in manifestations of the European Common Foreign Policy and -as member of NATO - is a partner in the EU-NATO security cooperation. Like all candidate countries it also receives a certain amount of financial and technical assistance in support of ongoing reform programmes. Short of full membership there is hardly room for added value.

Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn has spelt it out with the necessary clarity: "If we stick to what we have ourselves decided at the highest political level in the European Council, as we should, I am reasonably confident that the negotiations shall start on the 3rd of October". There is not much to be added to this statement which is to the credit of the European Commission. Now it is up to Governments to treat Turkey with the fairness due to all candidate countries. To go back on formal decisions and commitments or to add last minute obstacles would make a mockery of the Union's credibility. Negotiations therefore must begin on 3d October.


© 2005. Project Syndicate

The Independent Commission on Turkey is supported by the
British Council and the Open Society Foundation–Turkey.
Independent Commission on Turkey