Talking to Turkey


News that the European Union and Turkey are to open a new chapter in their accession negotiations is a welcome boost for the Irish EU presidency in its last week. This is the first movement on the issue for three years, following blocking action by states opposed to Turkey’s membership. Yesterday’s compromise agreement provides that talks will open on regional policy in the autumn rather than immediately – allowing some states to register a protest against recent repressive actions against protesters, and timed conveniently after the German elections.

The German and Turkish foreign ministers pursued the compromise in the justifiable belief that much more would be lost than gained if they failed to agree. The German liberals are more favourable to Turkish accession that their Christian Democrat coalition partners led by Dr Angela Merkel, whose party manifesto opposes full membership for Turkey because it does not meet the conditions for entry and because its size and economic structures would overstretch the EU. Dutch, Austrian and Cypriot ministers also opposed opening the talks, while the French are now more open to them under President François Hollande.

The case for deeper engagement with Turkey is much stronger on economic, foreign policy and strategic grounds than the critics allow. This is the most buoyant economy in the EU’s neighbourhood, with an enormous regional impact and a large potential for constructive involvement with other Europeans. It is also an important bridge to the Middle East.

And the dramatic confrontations between protesters and the authorities in recent weeks reinforce the argument for having a continuing engagement capable of influencing events in favour of rights of assembly and free speech. There is in fact a good case for opening other policy areas for negotiation that would deal with justice, the courts, the rule of law and media freedoms – all central issues at stake in these confrontations.