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EUROPE > Ankara mulls cutting political ties with EU if chapter vetoed

ANKARA - Hürriyet Daily News

Turkey-EU relations could hit a new nadir if the opening of the ‘regional policies’ chapter is suspended by Germany and the Netherlands

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EU commissioner Stefan Füle (L) shakes hand with Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul. AA photo

EU commissioner Stefan Füle (L) shakes hand with Turkish PM Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Istanbul. AA photo

Serkan Demirtaş Serkan Demirtaş serkan.demirtas@hdn.com.tr

Turkey’s reaction against the European Union could be as harsh as completely suspending political dialogue with Brussels, if the opening of the “regional policies” chapter is vetoed by Germany and the Netherlands, the Hürriyet Daily News has learned.

“If they reject the opening of the chapter, our relations with the EU will return to their 1997 level,” a senior Turkish diplomat told the Daily News on June 18.

Turkey suspended political dialogue with the EU in December 1997 after its candidacy for full membership was rejected at the Luxembourg Summit of the union. Turkey-EU ties hit a nadir from 1998 to 1999, where the two had almost no exchange of views on numerous political issues, including Cyprus and other foreign policy issues.

“Our agenda with the EU should be limited to economic issues, and implementation of the Customs Union. They should forget about foreign policy consultations with Turkey,” the diplomat stated. “But we still hope common sense will prevail and the [regional policies] chapter will not be blocked.”

If the chapter is opened during the upcoming June 26 intergovernmental conference, it will be the first chapter to be opened after three years.

'Still time to overcome obstacle'

The reservation issued by Germany and Netherlands is technical on paper, but many believe the main reason is political and originated as a reaction to the Turkish government’s undemocratic response to the Gezi Park demonstrations.

“There is still some time to overcome this obstacle,” a European diplomat said, underlining that there were intense deliberations within the EU on the opening of this chapter. “Some other member countries urged these two countries that blocking the opening of the chapter would hurt our ties severely. It would be a very bad message to send to Turkey and to the Turkish people.”

The Committee of Permanent Representatives (COREPER) of the member states met yesterday and will hold another meeting today, before the EU ministers are expected to gather on June 24 to give the final decision on the opening of the chapter.

Parliamentary elections in September

Ankara believes Germany’s veto is purely for domestic use of the government on the eve of parliamentary elections slated for Sept. 22. A draft part program of Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) rejects Turkey’s full membership of the EU on the grounds that the candidate does not meet political criteria and would overburden the EU because of the size and structure of its economy.

The program says the country would "overburden" the bloc because of its size and economy.

However, the Turkish diplomatic source stressed that Turkey “would no longer remain silent in the face of attempts to use it as a tool in a pre-election campaign of any EU country.”

Relations between Turkey and the EU have recently been strained after the European Parliament issued a strongly worded statement against the Turkish government’s response to the Gezi Park demonstrations.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan said he “did not recognize” the European Parliament (EP) and its decisions, while accusing the EU of being “undemocratic.” His reaction was echoed by almost all top government officials, including President Abdullah Gül, leading to the postponement of an EP delegation’s visit to Turkey on June 18 and 19, as none of the top Turkish brass would give them appointments.

EU Minister Egemen Bağış criticized yesterday the veto decision of Germany and the Netherlands and said EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs EU. "Even if they open a chapter or not, Turkey will continue growing, keep thriving, becoming transparent, developing,” Bağış said.

The EP’s report praised President Gül and Deputy Prime Minister Bülent Arınç for their conciliatory stances in the face of demonstrations, but had some harsh things to say about Erdoğan and other officials. This is seen by many government supporters as a deliberate attempt to “meddle” in Turkey’s internal political situation.

Justice Minister Sadullah Ergin canceled his scheduled trip to Brussels, while the EU canceled a meeting of the Regions Committee, which had been slated for June 25 and 26. The joint parliamentary commission set for June 27-28 will also not be able to be realized if the regional policy chapter is blocked, the diplomatic source said.

June/20/2013

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