Turkey: Hollande arrives and Ankara dreams of Europe

EU bid stalled by Sarkozy veto, Berlin expects revival

16 May, 12:49

(ANSAmed) - ANKARA, MAY 16 - The end of the Ottoman empire was perhaps the last time that Turkey had so openly supported a candidate in the French presidential elections. Now, with Francois Hollande's victory and the exit of Nicolas Sarkozy, the "veto man", Ankara is once again dreaming of Europe.

After the freeze in relations over the last few months, aggravated by the position taken up by Paris over the Armenian genocide, which Ankara denies, Turkey has reacted very warmly to Hollande's election, with congratulatory messages and phone calls from President Abdullah Gul and the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan. The press in Ankara and Istanbul are now looking towards a revival of talks on EU accession which were opened in 2004 and proceeded at snail's pace due to reticence shown at the time by Berlin, and stopped completely in 2010 by Sarkozy. In 8 years, Brussels and Ankara have opened only 5 of the 35 negotiation chapters, concluding just one.

Of course, there has been no shortage of problems. It is difficult to imagine integration of an enormous Muslim country of 75 million people, the size of Germany into a European Union that is already wobbling politically due to its enlargement to the east and close to monetary implosion under the weight of speculation. But Turkey has changed considerably in the last few years. The country has taken on board a large number of EU regulations, has been stabilised politically since the rise to power in 2002 of Erdogan's conservative Islamists, and is now in the midst of an economic boom, with growth at 8.5% (with a peak of 11% in the first quarter of 2012). The country is a sort of new promised land for European businesses, with hundreds of billions in investments due between now and 2023, and currently has the world's 16th largest economy, aiming to become the 10th in the world within 10 years. Moreover, the country is already in line with the parameters of Maastricht. It appears that ideas are changing with regard to Turkey's bid to join the EU. Some are even starting to think that the EU could need the country, a regional and political power and an emerging economy. "It can provide an economic, geopolitical, strategic and cultural boost to a demographically old and tired Europe, which is not full of economic impetus," the Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said last week after a summit with Erdogan in Rome. Italy is strongly in favour of an acceleration of EU talks with Ankara.

Hollande, who in recent months has called for "fair" talks with Turkey, could now give Paris's approval, and with the blessing of Berlin. The German Foreign Minister, Guido Westerwelle, said in Istanbul yesterday that he expected talks to resume. The thorny issue of Cyprus, however, still remains. The Nicosia government has the rotating EU presidency between July and December. Ankara, which has occupied the north of the island since 1974 and does not recognise the Cypriot government, has announced that it will boycott EU meetings during the Cypriot term. Meanwhile, the EU Commissioner for Enlargement, Stefan Fule, arrives in Ankara on Thursday. The Turkish Press believes that the economic and monetary chapter in negotiations could be opened by July. Failing this, all talks will be put back to 2013. Erdogan has said on several occasions that Ankara is still focussed on the EU. But as the winner of the Nobel Literature Prize, Orhan Pamuk, points out, Europe "has broken many hearts in Turkey".(ANSAmed).

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