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Where there is no law, but every man does what is right in his own eyes, there is the least of real liberty
Henry M. Robert

Turkey and Europe: Two Trains on a Collision Course?

3 October, 2006 - 00:00

By intervening in Lebanon, Europeans have made a far-reaching, risk- fraught, and, at the same time, correct decision. The reason is that the future of Europe’s security will be determined in the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Europe, whether it likes it or not, has taken on a new, strategic role in the region. Should it fail, the price will be high.

In view of the serious risks that Europe has assumed, in full awareness of the consequences, it is of the utmost importance that a European “Grand Strategy” for the Eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East be developed, so that Europe can calmly and clearly define its interests. In any serious variation of this Grand Strategy, Turkey will need to play a central role — politically, militarily, economically, and culturally.

Safeguarding Europe’s interests today means establishing a strong link — indeed an unbreakable bond — with Turkey as a cornerstone of regional security. So it is astonishing that Europe is doing exactly the opposite: firmly closing its eyes to the strategic challenge posed by Turkey.

Successful modernization and democratization of Turkey — with a strong civil society, the rule of law, and a modern economy — will not only be hugely beneficial for Turkey, but will also export stability and serve as a model for transformation in the Islamic world. Above all, the successful modernization of a large Muslim country will make a decisive contribution to Europe’s security.

Since the days of Kemal Ataturk, the founder of modern Turkey, the modernization of Turkey has relied on its Western or European perspective. For the last 43 years, this perspective has been largely defined by Turkey’s interest in joining the European Union and by the EU’s promise of accession. But at the very moment when even slightest glance at the crisis-ridden region on Europe’s eastern flank — Iran, Iraq, Syria, the Middle East conflict, Central Asia and the Southern Caucasus, Islamic terrorism, emigration, and threats to Europe’s energy supplies — should make clear Turkey’s paramount importance to European security, Europe is reveling in its disinterest in the state of European-Turkish relations.

This autumn, the European Commission is scheduled to issue a progress report on accession negotiations with Turkey. A dangerous situation may well emerge, as this report threatens to derail the whole process.

The key dispute is over Cyprus. Turkey has refused to open its ports, airports, and roads to the Republic of Cyprus, as it is obligated to do by the Ankara Protocol, which set the terms of Turkey’s accession negotiations. Turkey explains its refusal by the EU’s failure (as a result of a veto by the Greek Cypriot government in Nicosia) to fulfill its own promise to open up trade with Northern Cyprus, which is under Turkish rule. The EU made these promises at the Council of Europe in December 2003 and formally at the Council of Foreign Ministers in April 2004. But so far it has not fulfilled them. So it is Ankara — and not the EU! — that has a legitimate point here.

When the Ankara Protocol was agreed, the government of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan achieved something that, until then, had been considered impossible: he broke the back of the decades- old opposition of Turkish Cypriots to a compromise between the two parts of the divided island. Turkish Northern Cyprus accepted UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s plan (massively supported by the EU) to resolve the long-standing conflict. But the Greek South, goaded and inflamed by its government, rejected it. It would be deeply unjust and outright foolish if the EU Commission’s report holds Turkey responsible for its refusal to make further concessions to Greek Cyprus (now an EU member), while refusing to blame the government in Nicosia, which is the real cause of the blockage.

Some in the EU — mainly in France, Germany, and Austria — seem smugly pleased by the prospect of a clash on this issue, believing it will force Turkey to give up its drive for membership. But this attitude is irresponsible. The EU is about to commit a grave strategic error by allowing its report this autumn to be guided by the short-sighted domestic policy considerations of some of its important member states.

And what perspective would Turkey have outside the EU? Pan- Turkish illusions? A return to the Orient and to Islam? None of these will work. But Turkey will not sit idly on Europe’s doorstep. Europe’s attitude is pushing Turkey towards forging alliances with its traditional regional rivals, Russia and Iran. These three powers, each of great importance to Europe, have been rivals for many centuries. So an alliance between them would seem a near impossibility. Yet Europe seems bent on achieving the impossible, to the Continent’s detriment.

Within Turkey, opinion polls suggest that frustration with Europe is intensifying, while Iran is viewed with increasing favor. A sense of alienation towards the West is spreading, and Turkey’s diplomatic relations with Russia have reached a hitherto unknown intimacy.

Of course, there is vast domestic resistance to Turkey’s accession to the EU. The final result of the accession process is therefore an open question for both sides. Admittedly, Turkey has a long way to go. But to endanger this process here and now, in full awareness of the possible costs, is an act of very costly stupidity on the part of the Europeans — and stupidity is the worst sin in politics. In European-Turkish relations, two trains are racing headlong towards each other. Neither Turkey nor Europe can afford the all-too-foreseeable crash.

© Project Syndicate/Institute of Human Sciences, 2006

Joschka FISCHER was Germany’s Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor from 1998 to 2005. A leader of the Green Party for nearly 20 years, he is now a visiting professor at Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School.

By Joschka FISCHER