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The first scenario: a train wreck

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy agree that Turkey should not become an EU member, but "a privileged partner". Photo: European Council
Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy agree that Turkey should not become an EU member,
but "a privileged partner". Photo: European Council

The widespread sense among observers – in Turkey and abroad – that the accession process might be headed for disaster has been present nearly from its outset. In June 2006, none other than EU Enlargement Commissioner Olli Rehn warned against a possible "train crash" with Turkey over Cyprus. "Turkish crash looms for Europe," warned a BBC article in September 2006. "Train crash or temporary derailment?" asked a paper for the European Policy Centre. Around the same time, the Ankara Chamber of Commerce reported that "Turkey fell under the train."

The doomsday scenario resurfaced at the end of 2008, with the SETimes reporting that "Turkey faces a possible 'train crash' with the EU next year". In October 2009 Mehmet Ozcan of the Ankara-based International Strategic Research Organisation (USAK) warned of a possible "train crash of the accession process in December." The railway-related metaphors have caught on among commentators. A Google search for "Turkey", "train crash" and "accession" yields 7,500 results.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Photo: German Government

Contrary to these speculations, the risk of a "train crash" is minimal. In recent years a number of developments provoked talk of looming disaster: Ankara's failure to ratify the Ankara Protocol, which it signed in 2005, and which would extend the Turkey-EU customs union to Cyprus; the presidential elections in France, which brought to power Nicolas Sarkozy, in 2007; the German parliamentary elections in 2005 (which made Angela Merkel Chancellor of Germany) and in 2009 (which saw the pro-Turkish accession SPD go into opposition). Yet none of them produced the disaster itself.

The reason for this is reassuringly self-evident. The train crash never took place simply because it is neither in Turkey's interest, nor the EU's, to stop the accession process any time soon. The overwhelming majority of EU member states still see Turkish accession as a potential boon to Europe. The Turkish government still sees the accession process as a boon to Turkey.

Train tracks. Photo: Samurai

There are only two ways for the talks to end or be suspended: one is for Turkey to give up and walk away from the negotiating table; the other is for the EU member states to decide on a suspension. The first of these scenarios would require a major policy shift inside Turkey. Even if Turks might be losing faith in the accession process, such a shift is very unlikely. In the near future, it is difficult to expect the AKP – or even the current opposition – to turn its back on the country's longstanding foreign policy priority and to alienate the many Turks who still favour a continued accession process.

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