ANKARA – Turkish Daily News
Turkey's decision after days of intense evaluation to attend the Union for the Mediterranean summit in Paris this Sunday at the highest level could open a new window of opportunity for Turkey and France to restore broken ties over the Turkish bid to join the European Union.
Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan responded positively to French President Nicolas Sarkozy when the French leader telephoned him Tuesday to personally invite him to the summit. �Sarkozy assured Erdoğan that this project had no connection with Turkey's bid to the EU,� a high-level Turkish diplomat told the Turkish Daily News yesterday.
Turkey was hesitating about whether to embrace the Union for the Mediterranean, an initiative spearheaded by Sarkozy, because of doubts that it might harm the country's EU membership prospects. Sarkozy is a staunch opponent of Turkey's EU accession and advocates a �special partnership� rather than full membership, a proposal Ankara categorically rejects.
According to diplomats, Erdoğan and Sarkozy will come together on the sidelines of the summit for a very short meeting. �There needs more personal contact between our leaders,� a diplomat told the TDN. �This summit would be a very good setting for a fresh start.� Foreign Minister Ali Babacan will accompany Erdoğan during his stay in Paris from July 12 to 13.
Four reasons to go to Paris
According to diplomats there are four main reasons behind Turkey's decision to participate in the summit. The first is that Turkey's conditions on the wording of the draft summit conclusions were met. Turkish diplomats actively participated in efforts to pen the document and provided a clear wording to ensure that its full EU membership bid would not be damaged. Turkish diplomats said there were still minor issues to be resolved before the summit.
Second, Turkish diplomats convinced the government that the initiative, though sponsored by France, is an EU project and low-level participation would create unease within the 27-member bloc. Turkey should actively join the project both because it is a Mediterranean country and because it is a candidate for the EU, many Turkish diplomats argued.
For the third reason, diplomats argued that a cold attitude towards the summit would also be seen as a protest against France, which would be a very bad signal at the beginning of Paris' term presidency of the EU. France will play a crucial role until the end of this year, and such a negative start would not be a wise move for Turkey, diplomats conceded.
And finally, according to diplomats, the government did not want to risk EU support prior to sensitive domestic political developments. The governing party seeks full support from the EU in its efforts not to be disbanded by the Constitutional Court and it could not simply turn its back on the EU in this sensitive period, according to diplomats.
Not yet a rose garden
However the PM's decision to attend the meeting does not mean that problems have been fully resolved. There is still room for doubt regarding the mechanism for implementation of projects undertaken by the Union for the Mediterranean. For a project to take effect, France favors a compromise among the countries to take part in that particular project, while Turkey demands a broader compromise among all participant countries in the union. Ankara's insistence on an overall consensus comes from concerns about possible interventions of Greek Cyprus, which has already been creating obstacles for Turkey on the EU front.
However, the Turkish stance is heavily challenged by Arab states, which argue a broad consensus would make each project vulnerable to Israeli veto. Efforts to find a middle ground are still underway and the draft conclusions will be finalized by foreign ministers of the participant countries before the gathering of leaders on Sunday.