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Europe

Turkey's Reform Efforts Wane

Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül meets EU representatives in Vienna on Wednesday. The bureaucratic process for EU membership negotiations is on track, but the political climate is a different story.

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Is the EU flag becoming less likely to fly constantly in Turkey?

"On both sides, doubts are growing about a successful integration of Turkey into the EU," said Heinz Kramer, a Turkey expert at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs in Berlin. "The reform drive that we've gotten used to between 2002 and 2005 has been paralyzed."

Udo Steinbach, the director of the German Institute for Middle East Studies, also believes that the process of modernization in Turkey has stagnated. Elections in 2007 are partially to blame for this as Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has to deal with a majority of hardliners that support his Islamic Party for Justice and Development (AKP).

Domestic problems

Domestic conflicts are therefore responsible for Turkey getting caught up in conflicts "that seemed a thing of the past," Steinbach said.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan und Abdullah Gül

Erdogan (right) and Gül

An invitation to militant Palestinian group Hamas must have pleased Erdogan's party supporters, who are mostly pro-Palestinian and anti-Israeli.

"But such an invitation and such a stand leads to irritations with the EU," Kramer said, adding that by welcoming Hamas, Turkey's government went against EU policy not to take up contact with Hamas until it has renounced terror and recognized Israel's right to exist.

Turkey sees things differently and has had good relations with Palestinians for several years -- long before Hamas' election victory, Steinbach said.

Erdogan wanted to emphasize Turkey's role as a regional power and its connection to the Middle East by inviting Hamas.

"But it's not clear yet whether Turkey sees this role as a supplement or alternative to EU membership," Kramer said.

Turkey as mediator

On Wednesday, EU representatives -- the Austrian and Finnish foreign ministers as well as EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner and foreign affairs chief Javier Solana -- are expected to talk to Gül about a possible mediator role between the West and the Islamic world in the aftermath of violent protests against Danish caricatures of Mohammad. Turks demonstrated as well, but they remained peaceful.

Weiter Proteste in Pakistan gegen Karikaturen

The EU is not particularly well-liked in Muslim countries right now

"Turkey's behavior during the conflict shows that Turkey no longer is a typical Islamic country," Kramer said. "But that's exactly what makes it less credible as a mediator."

Kramer added that Turkey needs to recognize that it is a multiethnic nation -- something that's far from becoming reality.

"Turkish nationalism is rising again," Steinbach said, citing current Turkish literature and the discussion surrounding Turkish action movie "Valley of Wolves," which has been described as anti-Semitic, anti-Christian and anti-Kurdish in the West.

"A lot remains to be done when it comes to Turkish policies towards minorities," Kramer said.

Steinbach added that controversies like the one surrounding the move will not lead to EU membership negotiations being terminated.

The Cyprus issue

The Cyprus question is a different matter.

"In the second half of 2006, the big Cyprus dispute will happen," Kramer said, adding that Cypriot Greeks could manage to have membership negotiations ended.

Volksabstimmung Zypern Plakat Ja Türkisch Polizist

Cypriot Turks said Evet, or yes, to unification with the Greek part of the island

Turkey meanwhile is accusing the EU of double standards. Turks cannot understand why the Greek part of the island was admitted to the EU even though it opposed a unification proposal by the UN in 2004. Another proposal by Gül was also rejected by the Greek side in late January. Ankara on the hand continues to refuse opening its borders for Cypriot ships and planes.

The EU has been trying to mediate in the conflict and has paid 139 million euros ($165.6 million) in aid to Cypriot Turks -- albeit two years late. But this does not change anything about the economic isolation of the northern part of the island, Kramer said.

An escalation of the controversy could lead to Cypriot Greeks opposing further membership talks with Turkey. To prevent this, the Turkish part of Cyprus should receive more support, Steinbach said.

"The EU must not let a small anti-Turkish faction dominate its policy in that respect," he said.

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