Last weekend’s regularly-scheduled European Council summit (the half-yearly meeting of European Union heads of government) was dominated by the prospect of Turkey as an EU member-state, and its most news-worthy result was the approval by the assembled leaders of the commencement of negotiations with Turkey to that end beginning in October of next year.
For me, the question of Turkey’s accession to the European Union brings with it two epiphenomena, one minor and one major. There is the way the question has already become entangled in the historic Turkey-Greece enmity, although at second-remove. Relations are now good between Turkey and Greece themselves, so that any veto of Turkish membership by the latter is hard to imagine (at least in the present situation). But there also remains the problem of the divided Turkish-Greek island of Cyprus, which Turkish armed forces invaded in 1974, and which more importantly is also an EU member-state. It seems that a lot of sweat and toil was expended at this just-concluded EU summit to find some compromise between Cypriot (and, actually, also Greek) insistence that Turkey recognize the Greek half of the island, and Turkish reluctance to do so. The compromise was that Turkey would not make such a recognition now, but would certainly do so before those entry negotiations start next October.
But that is the minor epiphenomenon, and so not of much interest to me. (Although it is nonetheless conceivable that future problems along this line could be enough ultimately to torpedo Turkish entry, thus rendering the following “major” epiphenomenon moot.) In my view, that “major” epiphenonemon is the gulf that has opened up between the negative attitudes of EU national electorates (not all of them, to be sure, but quite a number) towards Turkish accession and the continued behavior of their political leaders in keeping that accession process on-track. By the very nature of the way the EU works in important membership questions such as this, that behavior has to be well-nigh unanimous, as serious objections from any member-state can substantially slow down the process or even stop it. (Ultimately, of course, ratification of any Turkish EU-entry will have to be unanimous among all current member-states.) Meanwhile, the level of actual political support for Turkish membership is nowhere near unanimous across the continent. When will one reality catch up with the other? Or is that alleged EU “democratic deficit” for real, even to the extent that the epochal decision of admitting Turkey could be made even in the face of its rejection by the voters who actually make up the EU’s population?
In this light, the French press is the most appropriate prism to use to examine last weekend’s summit – and not only because an eventual referendum to enable French public opinion on the subject to find its political expression has been promised. (more…)