French initiatives stir up pessimism

As reported in the previous editions of EU-25/27 Watch on Turkey, developments in the EU receive political and public reactions and national media coverage only when they relate to the accession of Turkey to the EU. The issue of the future of the EU is no exception in this regard. Therefore the debate on EU’s future received public opinion’s attention to the extent that it, in the eyes of the public, was linked to Turkish membership. This means that matters such as those related to the timetable and the technical process for ratification of the Treaty were of no interest to Turks, as Turkey is not expected to ratify the Treaty. Such disinterest in the future of the EU is also aggravated by the fact that Turkish attitude towards the EU in general is growing increasingly sceptical in seeing Turkey in the EU.

Turkey and the future of the EU
According to a recent Eurobarometer poll, Turkish public opinion is by far more pessimistic about the future of the EU than the current member states. While 66% hold a positive assessment among the EU-27 member states, this figure remains only at 51% in Turkey. What is more striking is that the general image of the EU among Turks is even less optimistic.[1] Underlying these attitudes were most probably reports that the French President Nicolas Sarkozy insisted that Turkey had no place in Europe. Among his inventions to sideline Turkey’s full membership bid were the introduction of a Mediterranean Union, establishment of a committee of wise men discussing the future of the EU and the introduction of a joint working group between Turkey and France. Through these mechanisms Mr. Sarkozy had openly attempted to derail the EU-Turkey accession talks toward full membership. Such moves contributed to recent wave of pessimism in Turkey.[2] Following Germany’s chancellor Angela Merkel’s line, it was now Mr. Sarkozy who insisted on establishing a privileged partnership with Turkey instead of full membership – a long-standing promise the EU made. Eventually Mr. Sarkozy had managed to block all direct references to Turkey's accession in the Brussels European Council conclusions of December 14, 2007 – which did not resound well all across Turkey. Opinion makers in Turkey also share the plummeting support for Turkey’s EU bid amongst the public opinion. Many EU experts, politicians, businessmen and journalists find themselves questioning their previous positions regarding the EU perhaps for the first time in years.[3]
The government, however, clings to Turkey’s longstanding goal of full membership. In an implicit reference to France, Minister of Foreign Affairs Ali Babacan commented that accession negotiations were expected to progress as each chapter would be closed without having to depend on the “political choices of certain countries”.[4] He had recently added that the attitudes of Mr. Sarkozy and Mrs. Merkel “do not affect us” as he believed that their views will not determine the place of Turkey in the future EU.[5]
Reactions to the establishment of a ‘Committee of the Wise’
In response to the decision of the European Council in December 2007 to establish a Reflection Group on the future of the EU the Turkish government repeated its historical stance that Turkey would never participate in a forum that questions its future membership. The decision of the European Council to limit the scope of the mandate of the Reflection Group to exclude the future borders of Europe was thus welcomed. The Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan was quoted as saying “the French proposal has now been brought down to levels acceptable for us”.[6]
Turkey’s economy minister Mehmet Şimşek had already made it clear before that Turkey would accept no recommendation from the "wise men" involving a privileged EU relationship, partnership in a French-proposed Mediterranean Union, or anything else short of full EU membership.[7] The Turkish government expects the EU to stay loyal to the promises it has made and to avoid dragging Turkey into a discussion over the future of the EU. This is a view shared widely among political parties and civil society organizations in Turkey.

[1] Standard Eurobarometer 68 – Autumn 2007, Ulusal Rapor: Turkiye.

[2] Anadolu Ajansi, December 14, 2007.

[3] Radikal, December 15, 2007 and Referans, December 15, 2007 and December 27, 2007.

[4] Agence Europe, November 21, 2007.

[5] AjansAB-Zaman, February 3, 2008.

[6] Turkish Daily News, December 17, 2007.

[7] Financial Times, November 7, 2007.