June 5, 2009
In the run-up to the European elections, German and French conservatives are pushing for a “privileged partnership” arrangement for Turkey, as opposed to full EU membership. From the West of the continent to the Balkans, the issue of Turkey’s accession is a hot one, given the 16 million Muslims now living within the Union’s borders.
The European Social Democrats are favourable to the idea of full EU membership for Turkey, a stance which has recently infuriated President Sarkozy. The issue is so contentious that following Carl Bildt’s interview in Le Figaro – in which he expressed Sweden’s support for accepting Turkey as a full EU member – the French president has cancelled his planned state visit to Sweden.
Nor is the situation any better in Germany. In a live chat with Spiegel Online, the President of the European Parliament, Conservative Hans-Gert Poettering, has recently declared : “it is my deep belief that — politically, culturally, financially and geographically — it would be too much to have Turkey as a member of the European Union”.(Source: Spiegel Online, 25 May 2009) Whilst Chancellor Merkel also favours a “privileged partnership” for Turkey, her foreign minister, Social Democrat Steinmeier supports the idea of Turkey’s inclusion within the EU.
To be sure, the lack of a common foreign policy and of a bipartisan approach to enlargement is responsible for the current divide affecting the EU’s polity. With the fate of the Lisbon Treaty in doubt, the Union seems unable to reach consensus on major issues such as enlargement and its limits. This creates a situation in which countries like Turkey are given mixed signals, which in turn could lead to confusion, frustration and disappointment, if not outright contempt for our political leadership.
For such political quagmires to be avoided in future, a consensus needs to be reached between the Conservatives and the Social Democrats, before adopting an official position and thrashing it out in the media. Political expediency apart, both sides should understand that some issues cannot be used for electoral purposes without doing serious harm to the EU’s influence abroad and at home. As matters now stand, the only general consensus developing is that the Union is rudderless and paralysed by infighting.Florian Pantazi