With Turkey as a member, the European Union would become “the most important peace project in world history,” Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan claimed during an official visit to France yesterday (7 April). EurActiv France and EurActiv Turkey report.
The EU opened membership talks with Turkey in October 2005, but a number of stumbling blocks remain on Ankara’s road to EU accession, in particular concerning trade links with Cyprus, freedom of expression and the rights of the Kurdish minority.
Throughout Europe, the arguments that surround Turkey’s accession bid revolve around a series of issues, ranging from demographic through geographic to political.
One argument is that Turkey would become the EU’s most populous member state if and when it were to join the EU. Turkey’s current population is estimated at 74 million, q figure which is predicted to increase to 80-85 million in the next 20 years. This compares with the largest current EU member state Germany, which has 83 million people today, but whose population is projected to decrease to around 80 million by 2020.
Perhaps the most sensitive of all arguments centres on cultural and religious differences. Since the EU identifies itself as a cultural and religious mosaic that recognises and respects diversity, supporters of Turkey’s EU bid believe that, as long as both Turkey and the EU member states maintain this common vision, cultural and religious differences should be irrelevant.
France appears to have become increasingly sceptical about Turkey’s EU membership. While former President Jacques Chirac had been a vocal albeit lukewarm supporter of Ankara’s ambitions, the referendum on the EU Constitution brought to the fore the French public’s reservations.
French President Nicolas Sarkozy is firmly opposed to Turkish membership of the EU, claiming that “Europe has been lying about its borders. Turkey is in Asia Minor and not in Europe”. Sarkozy believes Europe should suspend accession talks with Turkey and instead work towards a “privileged partnership”.
Erdoğan promoted the long-standing ties between the two countries during the closing ceremony of the Turkish Season in Paris, a cultural festival which lasted nine months and saw more than 600 activities take place in 120 cities.
The Turkish prime minister cited Amin Maalouf, a Lebanese-born French writer, and said his books demonstrated how Christian and Islamic cultures, languages and destinies were nested one within the other.
However, the Turkish media focused on French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s absence from the event, which was interpreted as a demonstration that the French president does not want to pay much attention to Turkey’s EU bid, EurActiv Turkey reports.
Meanwhile, the Turkish Season in France produced little result, EurActiv France writes, with Turkey’s EU bid not on the official agenda of talks between Sarkozy and Erdoğan.
Before arriving in Paris, Erdoğan regretted in an interview with Le Figaro that President Sarkozy did not show the same positive attitude about Turkey’s EU bid as his predecessor, Jacques Chirac.
“Only the leader has changed. The party is the same. That’s why I find it difficult to understand why things happen this way. I hope my visit will help find a solution to this,” he said.
Visit in the pipeline
Erdoğan also deplored the fact that Sarkozy had not visited Turkey recently. In contrast, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit to Turkey last week was the second time she had been since 2006, he said.
“Mr. Sarkozy hasn’t come yet. He keeps talking about a trip he made in his youth. He should come and see what today’s Turkey looks like,” he said.
His statements appear to have come to fruition. After a 45-minute meeting with Erdoğan at the Elysée Palace, Sarkozy’s services announced that the French president would visit Turkey soon after France had taken the helm of the G20 group in November.
However, Turkey’s EU future does not appear to be the only conflicting issue between Paris and Ankara. Contrary to Sarkozy, who would like sanctions on Iran to be hardened, Erdoğan voiced scepticism over the effectiveness of any further sanctions against Iran in the dispute over its nuclear programme, saying he still supported a diplomatic solution.
Turkey is a rotating member of the UN Security Council. The United States, Britain, France, and Germany expect to meet with Russia and China in New York this week to begin drafting a new round of sanctions.
Once the five permanent, veto-holding Security Council members, plus Germany, have agreed, they will present the proposal to the 10 rotating council members. Lebanon, Turkey and Brazil are likely to oppose the idea. Security Council decisions require the support of nine members and no veto from any permanent member.
French-Turkish relations are founded on deep historical and cultural ties, said Bahadir Kaleagasi, international coordinator for TÜSİAD, the main representative organisation of the Turkish business. Speaking to EurActiv, he added that these relations include very significant bilateral trade and investment, as well as potential joint projects and action on every important aspect of the EU’s ‘Europe 2020’ strategy, such as the digital agenda, green technologies, social development, etc.
“Thus we hope that today’s visit will boost a more rational and visionary approach by the Elysée to Turkey’s role as a future EU member,” Kaleagasi said, adding that TÜSİAD organised various events during the Turkish Season in Paris, and so did the association ‘Institut du Bosphore’ of which he is a board member.