Saturday, 17 January 2009

Turkey's PM to arrive in Brussels on Sunday

Turkey's PM, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, hopes to kick-start the accession negotiations between Turkey and the EU during a three days of meetings in Brussels starting Sunday. (Well, accelerate – the negotiations are still ongoing, but at snail’s pace).

Other initiatives designed to get Turkey back on the yellow brick road to Europe include finally appointing a full time EU negotiator. Turkey has also made some progress in the area of minority rights, such as launching the new Kurdish-language channel,
TRT 6, which is hopefully an indication that further progress will be made.

While there are many issues for Turkey to resolve before it can accede to the Union, most notably regarding human rights and Cyprus, the most frustrating thing for Turks must be that, as much as they may reform, their EU destiny is largely out of their hands. The threat of a French referendum on Turkish entry, which would most likely result in a "No", is one example of this.

The term used to explain this is "enlargement fatigue" on the part of the EU; the idea that the EU can only take on so much. While a lot of this is quite true - the institutions need reform to handle deals between 27+ member states and peoples - it is only part of a wider "change fatigue".

The EU has gone through a protracted period of reform - there have been 5 Treaties (including the Constitutional Treaty and Lisbon) and 3 enlargements since 1992. The pace of change has been disappointing to some and terrifying to others, and the EU is probably unique among international organisations for the rate of reform it has seen. However the perception of change may be much greater than actual change, and the perception that the EU is a project out of the control of the electorate means that however much change is needed, it doesn't always sit well with the electorate.

This is partially to blame on the member states, who have not been far-sighted in their reforms of the EU. Too much dithering over how democratic and effective they should make the EU (or how little reform they could get away with to not upset each other and protect their positions within the system) has resulted in an inflated number of treaties without the necessary public engagement to ensure public consent to further change, never mind encouraging public interaction with the European project.

The consequent feeling of a loss of control has led to an unwillingness to accept further change. In some states, this has focused on Turkey for historical and cultural reasons (and in some cases, outright anti-Islamic reasons). For France and Germany, the size of Turkey - it will be the first country of the 1st rank in population terms to join since Britain in 1973, if it manages to join - means that whatever fears they have over loss of control have and added potency.

However, to refuse Turkey, a western-orientated country for decades with cultural and historical links to Europe, entry into the EU club would damage the EU's celebrated "soft power" not just in the Islamic world but elsewhere. Most of the EU's soft power comes from its openness and its willingness to enlarge. If Turkey reforms itself successfully, it must be welcomed into the EU.

Refusing entry to Turkey won't help restore people’s, or states’, feelings of control over the European project, only a proper debate and meaningful engagement with the electorate can.

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