EU Elections Raise Worries Over Turkish Membership

ANKARA (Hurriyet)–A decisive victory for conservative parties in the European Parliamentary elections has created concern about the future of Turkey’s bid for EU membership and the path Europe is likely to take in the next five years.

Center-right parties emerged Monday from European Parliament elections claiming triumph over left-of-center groupings that failed to draw political advantage from their adversaries’ handling of the global economic crisis.

According to the Turkish Hurriyet Daily, Turkey’s European Union path seems slightly rockier after the weekend elections, spurring fears that Europe is becoming more conservative, less pro-enlargement and less pro-Turkey.

Diplomatic sources in Turkey said Ankara was still evaluating the results but made it clear that the outcome would not cause Turkey to lose its appetite for full membership in the EU. “We are resolutely proceeding on our road,” said a Turkish diplomat who requested anonymity.

Speaking to reporters before departing for Afghanistan yesterday, Foreign Minister Ahmet Davutoglu said a change in the balance of the European Parliament would not affect Turkish-EU relations.

. “I am absolutely happy that we did win the elections,” Ria Oomen-Ruijten, Turkey rapporteur of the European Parliament, told Hurriyet on Monday. Dutch Christian Democrat Oomen-Ruijten will continue drawing up reports on Turkey in the next term: her re-election after the vote will be officially announced Thursday.

She highlighted that the result should not be a source of concern for Turkey. “No way,” she said. “We are still the largest group in the European Parliament. What’s wrong? Nothing.”

The center-right European People’s Party secured 267 seats, making it the biggest group in the 736-member parliament, ahead of the socialists on 159 seats, down from 215, according to estimates.

“The fact that Social Democrats have lost seats in the European Parliament is not good news for Turkey,” Jan Marinus Wiersma of the Socialist Group in parliament told the Daily News. “We have consistent support for Turkey’s ambitions to become a member of the EU,” Marinus Wiersma said. “We know it is a difficult track and long process, but we are always in contact with [Turkey’s] government and the main opposition party.”

He said there were many reasons for the socialists’ defeat including low turnout in the polls as well as Europe’s enlargement fatigue, but he emphasized that Turkey played a role in many debates, including in his home country the Netherlands.

“I think Turkey played a role, but it was not the dominant factor,” said Wiersma. Analysts told Hurriyet that the shift to the right was more due to domestic concerns, including the global financial downturn, rather than an aversion to further EU expansion.

“The result should not be exaggerated. Turkey is the symptom and not the cause of the problem,” said Hugh Pope, senior analyst of the International Crisis Group.

“This is not a debate about Turkey; this is a debate about domestic politics in Europe. I think Turkey should be aware that the victory of the right wing has much less to do with anything real about Turkey, which is a kind of proxy for Europe’s domestic concerns,” he said. “And when the economic situation becomes better in three or four years time, the EU will turn back to enlargement, and Turkey has to wait for that moment.”

Sinan Ulgen, an EU expert at the Istanbul-based Center for Economic and Foreign Policy Studies, said the outcome illustrated the European public’s protest of the ongoing economic policies pursued by national governments as well as the gap between European people and European institutions.

“When we look at it from Turkey’s perspective, obviously that is a worrisome trend because with such composure the European Parliament’s political instincts are likely to be less pro-enlargement, less pro-Turkey,” he said. Ulgen, however, believes that political willingness and momentum in Turkish-EU ties would change the current situation to some extent.

“There is opposition to Turkey’s membership in some member states but it is supported by a large majority of countries. We should always be aware of this fact. We don’t have a monolithic Europe refusing Turkey.”

While commenting on the election results, German Ambassador to Turkey Eckart Cuntz said the parliament has nothing to do with membership negotiations, which are decided by the EU Council made up of heads of state and government leaders.

“The negotiations will continue based on the council decisions. As for Germany, our support [for Turkey’s EU bid] will continue,” he said.

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