Sarkozy victory a defeat for Turkey

By bne IntelliNews May 7, 2007

Nicholas Birch in Istanbul -

Since the beginning of his campaign for the Elysee Palace, Nicolas Sarkozy has made no secret of his opposition to Turkey's bid to join the EU and vowed to break off the accession process as soon as possible. Turks, he insisted at a final May 2 showdown with rival Segolene Royal, are from "Asia Minor, not Europe."

His success in Sunday's presidential run-off, therefore, is sending shivers down the spines of Brussels eurocrats, who've been battling for over a year now to keep Turkey's struggling bid on the rails.

"Another obstacle on Turkey's EU road," was the headline in today's centrist daily Milliyet.

"It's really not the moment to shut the door on Turkey's bid, at a time when Europe has already lost a lot of credibility over there," one senior official responsible for enlargement told Le Monde last Friday.

The official was putting it mildly. Angered by what they see as European hypocrisy over Cyprus and Kurdish separatism, Turkish supporters of EU accession have shrunk from 70% of the populace in 2005 to less than 40% today.

The two buzzwords of the 2002 general elections were Europe and reform. With elections due in July, the EU is simply not on the agenda.

"Instead, we have nationalism and ultimata from the army," says Omer Taspinar of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies. "It's time Europe realises that a Turkey moving away from Europe is moving away from democracy too."

Yet all the pessimistic talk about a looming end to Turkey's accession bid could well turn out to be overdone.

Halfway house

Technically, Sarkozy could block Turkey by vetoing the opening of a new chapter in negotiations. Some of his advisors are known to support such rapid action. But France's economic relations with Turkey are probably too important to risk what one French columnist calls a "brutal" rupture. France may no longer be number one investor in Turkey, as it was up to 2005, but it's still Turkey's fifth largest trading partner, with particular interests in the automobile, retail and armaments sectors.

Rumours that French companies would be excluded from military tenders following a French parliamentary vote on the Armenian genocide earlier this year appear to be unfounded: Thalys' $400m contract to install naval surveillance systems is still being honoured. Yet France's armaments attache is leaving Turkey this summer and, with the flow of contracts reduced to a trickle, looks unlikely to be replaced.

Negotiations with Turkey "will not be stopped, but they will not go all the way up to accession," right-wing French Member of European Parliament Alain Lamassoure told Liberation last week.

He expects Sarkozy to call for a change of policy at the European Council of Ministers meeting on June 21.

While she's far from being a raving Turkophile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, whose country currently holds the rotating EU presidency, isn't likely to take kindly to that. Her aim for the meeting is to unblock discussions on a new institutional framework for Europe. A debate over Turkey would likely sink that.

If Turkey is intelligent, analyst Haluk Sahin says, it should let Sarkozy run around trying to persuade his EU partners to block Turkey's accession bid. "Right is on Turkey's side: wasn't Charles de Gaulle one of those who first invited Turkey into Europe?"

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