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Europe

Turkey Resilient Despite Europe's Crisis

Turkey's hopes of EU accession remain high despite the rejection of the EU constitution by France and the Netherlands and a potential swing to the right in Ankara's key supporter Germany.

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The constitution may be in tatters but Erdogan and Gul's hopes remain

Despite making steps to improve its human rights record and the treatment of women in its society, Turkey now faces an increasingly uphill battle in its bid to become a member of the European Union. The fact that this situation arises through no fault of its own has only made Turkey more resilient in its accession campaign.

The double 'no' vote from France and the Netherlands on the European constitution may have left the treaty in tatters but Turkey remains committed to becoming a member of this dysfunctional family.

"We keep our hopes alive that the problems that have emerged will also be overcome and European integration will be taken forward to new targets as the necessary lessons are learned from the democratic decisions of the French and Dutch people," a statement from the Turkish government released on Thursday said.

Jubiläum in der Türkei

"Turkey will keep up efforts to accomplish the choice that the overwhelming part of its people has made. Our fundamental objective in the coming days is to ensure the successful completion of membership negotiations with the European Union which will start on October 3," it added.

When the heads of the EU states agreed to open accession negotiations with Turkey in December and penciled in the October 3 start date on condition of progress in the Cyprus situation, few would have predicted the bloc to be in such turmoil as it got closer to the time of the talks.

Turkey cited as reason for rejection

But for Turkey, the state of the bloc it so desperately wants to join matters little. There is no mention of Turkey's entry in the constitutional text and there is no law which states that new members cannot be admitted until there is a valid constitution in place.

However, as Turkey's Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül admitted recently, while it does not directly affect the process surrounding an accession bid, the Dutch and French rejection of the treaty does change the political climate; a change which could prove costly to Turkey.

Türkei als EU-Mitglied?

While the constitution text did not mention Turkey, the idea of the Islamic country joining the EU was definitely a referendum issue, as much as part of the whole enlargement discussion as one regarding the specifics of 70 million Turks joining the EU.

In France, where many right-wing groups brought up the Turkey question as part of the 'non' campaign, President Jacques Chirac's position has been severely weakened. Before the referendum, Chirac was a staunch supporter of Turkey's bid. Now, he may have to pacify an empowered populace by toning down his support.

Conservative Germany could cripple bid

Germany, another of Turkey's main supporters, may have not had to go through the potentially painful process of a referendum to ratify the constitution but still faces internal upheaval which may dilute or even dissolve its patronage of Turkey's bid.

Galerie Türkei Gerhard Schröder und Recep Tayyip Erdogan

The possibility of Gerhard Schröder's center-left coalition of Social Democrats (SPD) and Greens being ousted from government in early federal elections this year may lead to a conservative administration taking the reins. A conservative administration which has publicly opposed Turkey's entry to the EU in favor of a diluted "privileged partnership" version which would have no voting rights.

The "privileged partnership" was originally spoken of by the Christian Social Union (CSU) leader Edmund Stoiber in December but it has been adopted by the recently nominated Christian Democratic Union's (CDU) chancellor candidate Angela Merkel.

CDU - Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel

One week ago, the CDU leader reiterated the opposition's stance on Turkey, saying that Turkey should only be allowed to take part in accession talks if it has recognized Cyprus as a state under international law and has renewed diplomatic relations with Armenia by October.

While Abdullah Gül indirectly rejected Merkel's calls, Turkish Economy Minister Ali Babacan took a more pragmatic approach. "There may be different views in the EU (on Turkey's candidacy). The important thing is the EU has decided to start negotiations on October 3 and has embarked on an irreversible path for Turkey," he told a business conference in televised remarks.

"It's not easy to say what kind of political environment there will be in Europe in 10 years' time but we don't doubt the differences in EU perceptions of Turkey will narrow," he said.

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