Babacan says Turkey must choose the EU or the Third World

Babacan: Turkey must choose EU or Third World
Turkey will be relegated to the status of “a Third World country” unless it applies EU standards of democracy and the rule of law, the country’s chief EU negotiator State Minister Ali Babacan said on Tuesday.

Babacan made what sounded like a veiled warning to the EU candidate country’s powerful military and secular judicial establishment after six weeks of political turmoil over the election of a new president.

The events of the last month and a half had shown how important Turkey and the EU were for each other, Babacan said, in an apparent reference to the ongoing political turmoil that kicked off with release of a military warning of intervention — the infamous “e-memorandum” — released on April 27. At the time the General Staff made clear its opposition to the ruling Justice and Develop-ment Party’s (AK Party) bid to have Parliament elect Foreign Minister Abdullah Gül, whose wife wears a headscarf, as president.

“If there is no benchmark and if we think that each country has its own peculiar conditions and our democracy is specific to us, if we say we have the rule of law, but sometimes we can do things outside of that, such approaches will condemn Turkey to being a Third World country for decades and decades,” Babacan told a conference on EU-Turkey energy cooperation held in İstanbul.

The AK Party, which denies any Islamist agenda, contrary the overtones of the “e-memo,” eventually called for general elections ahead of schedule to resolve the conflict with the secularist elite over the election of Turkey’s next president. The General Staff statement — posted on its Web site hours after the first round of the presidential election and only minutes before midnight — expressed concern over debates on secularism in connection with the election process and threatening intervention in the name of secularism if such a need arises.

Upon an appeal by the main opposition Republican People’s Party (CHP) submitted soon after the first round of presidential vote, the Constitutional Court later ruled that there were not enough legislators at the balloting session to make it a valid round.

The EU, which Turkey aspires to join, has condemned the military’s intervention in the political process. Meanwhile, the government asserted that the military was to receive orders from it, not vice versa.

Speaking on the same platform, at the conference titled “Turkey and the EU: Together for a European Energy Policy,” which assembled key politicians and economists to discuss the challenges and opportunities concerning future energy issues faced by both the EU and Turkey, EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn urged Turkey not to step back from reforms because of the election campaign and to accelerate the process afterwards. “We need to see the next government and the newly elected Parliament revitalize and advance the reform process with full determination and concrete results,” Rehn said.

Need for consensus

Rehn also said Turkey, bitterly divided between secular nationalists and supporters of the pro-European AK Party, required above all a “broad national consensus” in support of EU accession.

Seeking to assuage nationalist feelings, Rehn condemned a wave of attacks by the outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK). Certain parts of Turkey’s public accuse the EU of encouraging Kurdish separatism by pressing for cultural and minority rights and seeking to shackle the power of the army. “Rest assured, the EU is on your side in this struggle against terrorism,” the commissioner said.

Neither speaker mentioned the election of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who is adamantly opposed to Turkish EU entry, but both said the conference highlighted the geopolitical interdependence of Turkey and the EU in the key field of energy. “The strategic thinking behind the accession process remains more valid than ever,” Rehn said, urging both sides to increase discuss strategic cooperation in areas such as energy and to set aside the “existential debate” about Turkish membership.

Depicting Turkey as an anchor of stability in the wider Middle East as well as an energy hub between Central Asia and Europe, he urged Ankara to become a full member of the Energy Community of southeast Europe. “What better way to prove the skeptics wrong?” Rehn said.

Turkey became an observer last year but has been reluctant to join the Energy Community, diplomats say, because it regards the move as a significant concession to the EU without reciprocity in terms of its membership prospects.

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