Turkey, France to launch new talks to clear Ankara’s EU path

Turkey, France to launch new talks to clear Ankara’s EU path

With Ireland having taken over the European Union term presidency on Jan. 1, a visible increase in contacts and relations between Turkey and the EU is being observed. EU Minister Egemen Bağış visited Dublin twice and took his place in the family picture, while Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoğlu held meetings with EU commissioner Stefan Füle in Brussels last week.

There has been ongoing work to pave the way for Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to visit Brussels for a “meaningful occasion.” Erdoğan wants to join the EU summit, something he could not do for the last three years due to former French President Nicholas Sarkozy’s blocking. He is expected to visit three central European countries next week and will host Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, on Feb. 25 in Turkey.

Both Ankara and Brussels are sincerely hoping that talks will gain momentum and that the accession negotiations will be back on their agenda. Erdoğan’s half-joking mention of joining the Shanghai Cooperation Organization instead of the EU is nothing but rhetoric the prime minister uses time to time. But that helped awaken pro-EU circles in the country in recalling Turkey’s main foreign policy pillar is still integration with Western institutions. Kemal Kılıçdaroğlu, leader of the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP), criticized Erdoğan for his hazy proposal, stressing that joining the EU was Turkey’s state policy.

The most concrete step that would suggest accession talks have been revived and Ankara-Brussels relations have gained momentum would be opening negotiation chapters. Ankara believes two chapters – regional policies and economic and monetary policy – could be opened during the Irish presidency if France gives the green light, as these two are among five chapters blocked by France again during Sarkozy’s presidency.

The issue will likely be raised by Davutoğlu in his meeting with French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius this weekend, where both men will attend a security conference in Munich.

Fabius is likely to inform Davutoğlu that the chapter on economic and monetary policy will be opened and will add French commitment to the continuation of Turkey’s accession process.

Opening even one chapter will be very important but this is not sufficient to re-launch a meaningful EU campaign in Turkey. The Turkish government’s poor records on freedom of expression and democratization stand as the most important hurdle in this course. Long detention periods and arrested journalists are pending problems.

Brussels is looking forward to seeing a comprehensive fourth judicial package that would address these particular problems and is awaiting good news from Parliament’s Constitution Conciliation Committee.

Right in its claim for fair treatment from the EU; Turkey, however, should exert more efforts to fulfill its own requirements for healthier relations with its European partners.