Independt commission continues campaignin for fair treatment of Turkey's EU accession bid
After urging European leaders, especially French President Nicolas Sarkozy, to treat Turkey's EU accession bid fairly, and to avoid statements harming ongoing accession talks between Turkey and the 27-member bloc, the Independent Commission on Turkey, a group of former European heads of state and government and other senior officials headed by Nobel laureate and former Finnish President Martti Ahtisaari, held a press conferences in Vienna yesterday. Speaking to reporters at the meeting, commission spokesman Albert Rohan, a former top Austrian and UN diplomat, said, "We can't ignore the fact that the Turkish government is not only declaring EU reforms but more importantly realizing them," citing the establishment of TRT-6, Turkey's first TV channel broadcasting in Kurdish, as an example of this. "This was an unimaginable thing in the past," he added. Urging European leaders to consider Turkey's rising regional power and influence, especially in the Caucasus and the Middle East, along with its key geopolitical location, Rohan said that the EU's long-term strategic interests should not be risked by turning down Turkey's bid to become part of the Union. Stressing that Turkey has a key role to play in the security of Europe's energy supplies, Rohan mentioned the July signing in Ankara of an intergovernmental agreement on the Nabucco project, which is planned to carry Caspian natural gas to Europe via Turkey, with great interest from a number of countries. He also criticized the EU for failing to opening the chapter on energy in Turkey's negotiations even as many foreign statesmen have visited Ankara seeking energy cooperation. The commission believes that negative reactions from European political leaders and the growing apprehension of the European public about further enlargement have given Turkey the impression that it won't be welcome even if it meets all the membership conditions. According to the commission, the sense of being excluded has further demoralized Turkish reformers, thus perpetuating a vicious cycle. The commission this week released a report called "Turkey in Europe: Breaking the Vicious Circle" and met in Brussels with Olli Rehn, the European Union’s top enlargement official. The commission then left Brussels for the first leg of a European tour to promote the report, including Sweden, which currently holds the rotating EU term presidency, followed by France and Austria. Throughout the tour, commission members were saying that European leaders had a moral obligation to keep the promise given to Turkey that it would join the 27-nation bloc upon completing its reform obligations. The commission was preaching to the choir in Sweden, where there is a cross-party consensus to support Turkey's accession. This was not the case in France and Austria, where many advocate alternatives to membership. The discussion with French opinion makers evolved into an ethical debate about living up to the promises given to Turkey, thus protecting the EU's credibility. "We have to honor our undertakings with any country. Otherwise, I won't be able to trust in any European institution," said Ahtisaari in Paris, adding that Europe should be consistent with its own values. The commission’s report and visits have received extensive European media coverage, but it remains to be seen how much this will influence the European leaders and public regarding Turkey's EU bid.