One of the safest predictions for the coming year is that we are heading towards a crisis in the accession negotiations between Turkey and the European Union.
For this there are a number of reasons.
One is the shift in the European Union itself, where more Turkey-sceptical forces will be more in control of the process during the period ahead. It’s difficult to see the Austrian presidency make much to help move the process forward, and the German presidency in the beginning of 2007 will not be too helpful either.
There will, accordingly, hardly be the helpling hand needed to smooth out the different difficulties ahead, thus increasing the risk that they develop into crisis.
But then there are the issues of substance.
One concerns the wave of legal proceedings using the infamous Article 301 of the Turkish penal code that has been launched by conservative and anti-European forces in Turkey recently, the most prominent of which is the one against author Orhan Pamuk.
These are deliberate efforts to throw sand in the machinery, and there is no doubt that it is making Turkey great damage at the moment.
Not everyone understands that these are actions by rather extreme groups, with the government of Turkey as appalled as most others. But in any system with a separation of powers, the judiciary operates independently.
The possibility that is there – and that Foreign Minister Gul has now alluded to – is of course to change the relevant paragraphs in the law.
That would be a wise steps by the democrats of Turkey. It wouldn’t hurt if this leads to a review of whether there are similar pieces of old legalislation still existing among the present members of the European Union. That is by no means excluded.
The more serious and direct crisis ahead relates to the unresolved issue of Cyprus. Here, the efforts to reach a solution under the auspicies of the UN were sabotaged by the present Greek Cypriot leadership, and they have since continued their essentialloy obstructionist course.
One consequence of this is that the plans of the EU to help also the people in northern Cyprus, and open it up somewhat to the outside world, have been completely blocked. This has been the policy of both the European Commission and successive Presidencies, but has been vetoed by the Greek Cypriots.
It’s hardly surprusing that this in Turkey has been seen in less than positive light. In fact, they see it as the European Union has broken a promise.
And this in its turn has lead to rather strong opposition to Turkey allowing Greek Cypriot ships to enter its harbours. Under the existing customs union protocol, there is no doubt that they have a duty to allow them, but now there is a risk of the blockage of the Cypriot question leading to a blockage of this issue and this leading to a crisis in the overall relationship.
Well, risk is too vague a word. Certainty is more appropriate.
And that will come as the Union has to address also the difficult enlargement issues in the Western Balkans.
The post-Ottoman area will make itself known on the European political agenda in the year ahead.