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Rehn: Turkey is already a 'privileged partner' of the EU

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  • Rehn: Turkey is already a 'privileged partner' of the EU

    Euractiv, Belgium
    July 14 2005

    Rehn: Turkey is already a 'privileged partner' of the EU


    In Short:

    Against the growing spectre of an oft-mentioned but little explained
    "privileged partnership" scenario, Turkey is about to meet the last
    key condition set by the EU for opening membership talks.


    Background:

    On its way towards the EU, Turkey has already brought into force six
    outstanding pieces of legislation, which was one of the two
    conditions Ankara has had to meet in order for accession talks to
    start on 3 October 2005. The other key condition is for Turkey to
    sign a protocol that would extend the Ankara Agreement to the EU-10
    states, including Cyprus. According to Enlargement Commissioner Olli
    Rehn, he has received "reassurances that Turkey will sign the
    protocol in the coming days, or at most weeks", but clearly before
    October.

    However, Turkey's eventual readiness would not necessarily signal the
    start of talks on full EU membership. There is increasing talk within
    the EU of a "privileged partnership" scenario - an idea that was
    launched by German conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel in
    February 2004.

    Issues:

    As Turkey is about to meet all the conditions required by the EU to
    open membership talks at the scheduled date of 3 October 2005, the
    option of a "privileged partnership" appears to be coming to the fore
    in European political discussions.

    The advocates of this option, however, have yet to come out with a
    straightforward definition of what exactly such a partnership would
    entail. By and large, it is generally understood to refer to a
    'light' type of membership, which is certainly more than a customs
    union but which at the same time does not allow for any state in that
    category to act as a fully-fledged EU member. Such a tie would be
    strong enough to fall in line with the EU's ambitions for
    co-operation but it would not amount to joining the EU.

    Edmund Stoiber, who leads Germany's Christian Social Union (CSU - the
    CDU's sister party) has said that `Europe's basic freedoms should
    also be extended to [Turkey]: free movement of goods, greater freedom
    for the movement of individuals, freedom of provision of services,
    free movement of capital. And Turkey should also be fully integrated
    into the common foreign and security policy". At the same time,
    Stoiber has also said that he would do "everything within his legal
    power" to keep Turkey out of the Union.

    Germany is preparing to hold elections in September, which may bring
    the CDU-CSU coalition to power. While the EU keeps insisting that
    German domestic political developments will have no effect on the
    fate of Turkey's EU bid, all eyes will certainly be on Berlin during
    the days between the German elections and 3 October.

    Meanwhile, another candidate, Croatia, has been kept in the EU's
    waiting room since March 2005. Zagreb's EU bid has several
    supporters, especially among its immediate neighbours. The EU member
    states' leaders will have to reach unanimous decisions on Turkey's
    bid, and some countries (including Austria and Hungary) may want to
    make their support for Ankara's bid conditional on a green light to
    Croatia. For now, however, the cards of these countries remain close
    to their chest.

    Positions:

    Ankara insists on nothing less than "full membership" of the EU,
    declared Turkey's chief EU negotiator and Treasury Minister Ali
    Babacan at a meeting with MEPs in Brussels on 12 July. "I emphasise
    'full membership' as no document signed between Turkey and the EU nor
    any other EU decision envisages any other option," said Babacan. He
    said that Ankara can cope with a "rigorous" negotiating framework,
    but "would take issue if there were new hurdles". Babacan also
    reminded the MEPs that while the Turkish public is committed to
    carrying through the reforms conducive to full EU membership, this
    support can be fragile. "People [in Turkey] may be offended" if they
    hear comments from the EU that are not phrased carefully.

    Reacting to Ali Babacan's first appearance before the European
    Parliament's Foreign Affairs Committee, German MEP Renate Sommer
    (CDU) said that he "consequently avoided talking about the most
    obvious shortcomings of Turkey regarding the accession criteria such
    as the recognition of Cyprus, the Armenian genocide, the status of
    the Kurds and the adoption of the so-called law on foundations.
    Moreover, he was rather hesitant and evasive in answering the
    enquiries of the parliamentarians who were present". She said that
    `without a radical change in mentality, a full recognition of Cyprus
    according to international law, an open discussion of the Armenian
    question, an end to the war against the Kurds in the South-East of
    the country, equal rights for women and unrestricted religious
    freedom including the right to own property, we will continue to
    refuse Turkish accession to the EU.'

    According to Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn, 3 October will
    witness the opening of accession talks with Turkey and the
    negotiations will aim for full membership. He told a recent meeting
    in Berlin that he did not understand what the opponents to Ankara's
    bid meant by "privileged partnership". Emerging from a meeting with
    German conservative opposition leader Angela Merkel, who herself is
    an advocate of the "privileged partnership" scenario, Rehn said that
    "whatever more that [privileged partnership] could mean I'm willing
    to listen, but I have not yet heard very convincing answers".

    In Rehn's opinion, Turkey is already a "privileged partner" of the
    EU. "There is a customs union for trade and economy. The political
    dialogue is deepening. Turkey is part of the EU's crisis management
    operations in the Balkans. In other words, some would say this
    already represents a privileged partnership".

    Arguing that "Europe cannot enlarge indefinitely", French Interior
    Minister and presidential hopeful Nicolas Sarkozy has on several
    occasions called on the EU to offer a "privileged partnership" option
    to Ankara.

    In a recent interview with Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, Romanian
    President Traian Basescu argued in favour of offering Turkey
    "privileged partnership". Romania, itself a candidate scheduled to
    join the EU in January 2007, believes that this would be the best way
    to reconcile the differences among the parties concerned.

    Meanwhile, UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw has reiterated his
    country's view that the 'privileged partnership' scenario cannot and
    should not be supported. "We've made commitments to Turkey, we've
    made commitments to Croatia, my view is that we have to follow those
    commitments through," he said.

    German Foreign Minister Joschka Fischer believes that "after more
    than four decades of promises, it is very shortsighted to slam the
    door in Turkey's face. It would be a very high price that we would
    have to pay if that happened".

    Latest & next steps:


    Turkey is expected to sign a protocol extending the Ankara Agreement
    "very soon", clearly before October

    At an Intergovernmental Conference in early October, the 25 member
    states are expected to unanimously approve the EU's negotiating
    framework with Turkey, which was made public on 29 June

    On 3 October, accession talks are scheduled to be opened
    At a date as yet unspecified, Austria and France plan to hold
    referenda on Turkey's EU accession

    The negotiation process with Ankara is "open-ended" by definition and
    will not be concluded before 2014
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