If the “Economic and Monetary Policy” chapter, which was blocked by former French President Nicolas Sarkozy five years ago, is reopened in June, during the final days of the presidency of Denmark, thanks to current French President François Hollande’s approval, the positive agenda may gain additional momentum. There are many reasons for this new wave of action.
As the European continent undergoes an existential crisis, there are a decreasing number of decision-makers interested in the enlargement policy and in its main player, Turkey. Turkey’s prospective membership has become such a remote possibility that even Sarkozy, who used and abused that membership in every election, hardly made reference to it during the recent presidential campaign.
The fact that Cyprus will assume the term presidency on July 1 has added a new dimension to already cooled relations between the EU and Turkey. The negotiation process is not advancing, despite the isolated efforts of the EU Affairs Ministry. The primary reason is lack of a clear perspective for Turkey. It is not enough to say that “harmonization with the EU is in Turkey’s interest.” As during Sarkozy’s presidency, it is not likely that Turkey will pay attention to EU harmonization if the country is systematically ostracized. Also, harmonization is tough to achieve and costly. Not to mention the Turkish government’s lack of enthusiasm.
The European Commission is the natural ally of candidate countries. The success of the candidate means the success of the commission. The problems Turkey encounters during the negotiation process are a nightmare for the commission. EU Commissioner for Enlargement and Neighborhood Policy Stefan Füle has therefore taken action to get things moving. In addition to his staff and the official channels of communication with Turkey, he engaged with independent intellectuals in an attempt to seek an answer to the question in terms of what else could be done to fix the current situation and rebuild confidence.
The “positive agenda” is so far an unheard of practice in terms of enlargement policy techniques. Turkish bureaucrats will work with “eurocrats” in eight working groups. The working principles of the groups are summarized by the commissioner with the following formulas: “We will not teach you anything, we will be equal partners around the table; we will talk about all the crucial aspects of our relationship; the process will be interactive and civil society will be part of it.”
Meetings will be held in Ankara and Brussels; member states will be informed about the progress; in case the opening criteria for the chapters are met, the commission will inform in writing. Work won’t be interrupted during the presidency of Cyprus.
Frankly, this is not something we are used to from the beginning of the accession process in Helsinki in 1999. The working groups will focus on eight negotiation chapters. These are no substitutes for negotiations per se but aim to facilitate the process through the commission’s involvement.
Selected chapters include “Right of Establishment and Freedom to Provide Services,” which was blocked since 2006; five chapters under negotiation: “Company Law,” “Information Society and Media,” “Statistics,” “Consumer and Health Protection” and “Financial Control.” These are no key chapters, and with the exception of the chapter on health protection, rapid progress can be achieved there.
The remaining two are crucial chapters: “Judiciary and Fundamental Rights” and “Justice, Freedom and Security.” These two chapters were unilaterally vetoed by Cyprus in December 2009. The second chapter includes visa facilitation (not total waiver, as some unreasonably advocate) which is one of the top issues of the positive agenda.
In due course, it would be wise to create a ninth group on “Regional Policy” which indirectly refers to the notion of decentralized administration, a vital matter that Turkey is considering in connection with the new constitution. The chapter was vetoed by Sarkozy as well.
EU decision-makers who value the integration between Turkey and the EU are not pleased with the current state of affairs. The same applies to large social groups in Turkey who look for solutions to chronic problems, for the appropriate management of newly emerging ones and the consolidation of democratic fundamentals. They are fully aware of the functionality of the EU norms, standards and principles. Thus, the common goal is to avoid further weakening relations.
If a new dynamic is achieved with the positive agenda, the next step should consist of bilateral consultations for the articulation of a reasonable accession date. The results of the elections in Cyprus and Germany in 2013 should be the right moment for these consultations.