No more concessions, says Ankara
By Lénaïc Vaudin d’Imécourt | Wednesday 22 February 2012
Ankara feels that enough is enough, it has already done its part in attempting to push its EU membership negotiations forward and will not make any more concessions, Turkey’s newly appointed Ambassador to the EU, Selim Yenel, told a conference, on 21 February, on Turkey’s priorities and challenges in 2012.
While he conceded that his country’s relationship with the bloc was at a very low point, he said that his mission was to “prevent things from getting worse”. He said that Ankara had nothing left to offer to the EU and that his government was “fed up” with the current stalemate.
Yenel’s remarks came on the heels of mounting criticism from Ankara of the EU’s enlargement policy. Turkey applied for membership of the EU in 1987, and accession negotiations were formally opened in 2005. Since then, only 13 of the 35 negotiating chapters have been opened, and one provisionally closed. One of the usual steps in the negotiation process is the adoption by the EU of a visa waiver programme with the candidate state. This has not yet happened for Turkey, Yenel said, describing this procedure as “unfair”. “We have to show our added value” in comparison with other candidates, Yenel said. The country’s economic strength and its growing middle class will make it difficult for some member states to continue blocking Turkey’s accession, especially since the bloc is suffering from the euro debt crisis, Yenel explained. Having escaped a recession in 2009, Turkey saw 9% growth in 2010 and 7.5% in 2011. According to the International Monetary Fund, in terms of gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, Turkey ranked 64th in the world in 2010, ahead of ‘new’ EU members Bulgaria (67th) and Romania (72nd). “The accession process is taking our relationship hostage,” Yenel concluded.
The priority for Ankara, in 2012, is its foreign policy, Yenel said. “We now have the means to be active in foreign policy; we now have the opportunities,” he explained. The key element of the country’s strategy towards its neighbourhood is to ensure a “zero problem” policy by trying to “lower tensions”.
Nevertheless, Turkey does not appear to be willing to address its current issues with Cyprus, which will hold the EU Presidency in the second half of 2012. “We will not attend any meetings chaired by them” nor any meetings to be held on the island, Yenel said. But relations between the EU and Turkey will not be frozen as “we will still be having discussions with the European Commission, the European Parliament, etc,” the ambassador said. “It is in our interest to solve the Cyprus problem,” he admitted, but the lack of a political will on both sides will not help do so any time soon.