30 November 2004In the run-up to next month's European Union summit meeting, which will also focus on the opening of accession talks with Turkey, the Dutch presidency has drafted a plan which sets out some of the conditions for those negotiations to get underway.
With the plan also calling on Turkey to extend customs union to all the existing member states, including newcomer Cyprus, the draft document appears to be moving the hurdles for Turkey's possible EU membership even higher. It also recommends introducing an option to suspect the accession talks if a third of the member states so desire.
In this interview with Radio Netherlands, William Hale, lecturer in Turkish politics at London's School of Oriental and African Studies, examines whether the new plan really represents a toughening of the EU's position as regards Turkey's ambitions to join the union.
"I think we are seeing a slightly tougher stance by the Dutch presidency, but that is not to say that the European Council is going to accept the draft, verbatim, as it is given to them by the presidency."
RN: "There have obviously been some fears within the EU from some members, notably France, about Turkey's accession to the organisation. Do you think that this draft in any way reflects these concerns?"
"I dare say it reflects concerns, probably in the Netherlands as well as in France, about the whole proposal. But the point is that neither the Dutch EU presidency nor, to the best of my knowledge, the Dutch government, has reversed its previous decision that it supports the opening accession negotiations with the Turkey next year."
"There is substantial opposition in France, as you said, particularly on the part of the Union pour un Mouvement Populair, the party of President Jacques Chirac, against admitting Turkey to the European union. But that doesn't alter the fact that President Chirac has said on several occasions that he will support the start of accession negotiations."
RN: "Why is France sticking out its neck so much and putting its foot down as regards Turkey's accession?"
"I think there are two reasons for this. One of them is that there is a perfectly reasonable concern in France about ultra-Islamic terrorism. The point is, however, that none of this ultra-Islamic terrorism comes from Turkey. Turkey is a strong opponent of ultra-Islamic terrorism, indeed it has been the victim of ultra-Islamic terrorism itself. So, I think this point needs to be explained to the French public."
Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan hopes to take his country further down the road towards full EU membership
"The second point is that, in a broader way, France is concerned about the overall enlargement of the community because it reduces the power which individual states, including France, have within the European Union. It creates the kind of looser union which is the kind of union that, on the whole, France doesn't want."
RN: "There does seem to have been a lot of to-and fro in these accession negotiations for Turkey. Is there a sense in which Ankara is getting a little bit frustrated by this indecision and in-fighting within the EU?"
"Look, Turkey has been frustrated by indecision and in-fighting within the EU on this question for pretty well 20 years. It's not something that's completely new. So far as Turkey is concerned, they recognise two things. First of all, that eventually they will have to recognise the Republic of Cyprus. They very much hope that there is a settlement in Cyprus as part of the deal, but that we can't be sure of as yet."
"The second point is that Turkey has already recognised that the EU will be keeping a close watch on the application of the democratic reforms in Turkey during the accession negotiations. This is accepted on the Turkish side, so the statement by the Dutch presidency slightly alters the terms and conditions, but it doesn't fundamentally alter the situation."