- The Washington Times - Monday, June 16, 2008

NICOSIA, Cyprus | Turkey and the European Union begin a new round of membership talks this week despite EU disarray after Ireland’s rejection of the treaty intended to further unify the 27-nation bloc.

The Turkish-EU negotiations will revive a process started in 2005 amid considerable opposition in parts of Europe to Turkey’s candidacy and a growing Turkish resentment of the perceived “second-class treatment” of its application.

The Irish vote last week in a referendum defeated the so-called Lisbon Treaty, which was intended to streamline EU bureaucracy and give more power to its leadership.

The EU requires that all 27 members approve the treaty, but only Ireland submitted it to a popular vote.

Turkish analysts interpreted the Irish rejection as a sign that many ordinary Europeans are also alienated from the European Union. They pointed out that, in 2005, French and Dutch voters rejected the original effort to enact a constitution-style unity treaty, thus paralyzing that effort.

“Europe as an idea does not provoke passionate support among ordinary citizens,” said Denis MacShane, former British minister for Europe.

Most EU parliaments had ratified the Lisbon Treaty, but the Irish vote dealt a definite blow to the project.

At a summit this week, EU leaders will have to decide on a course of action in view of the paralysis.

Nevertheless, negotiations with Turkey are still on the agenda and concern two “policy chapters” out of a total of 35 pending issues. The two deal with “company law” and “intellectual property law.”

Talks on eight other chapters were interrupted when Turkey refused to recognize the Greek Cypriot government or admit Greek Cypriot ships and aircraft to its harbors and airports.

EU opinion polls show that 59 percent of Europeans oppose Turkish membership, with the opposition reaching 74 percent in Germany and 79 percent in Greece.

Turkish Foreign Minister Ali Babacan said “Europe should never think that Turkey has no choice.”

Turkey approaches the new negotiations in an atmosphere of crisis. The Constitutional Court, the country’s highest judicial authority, has threatened the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) with a ban on charges of pro-Islamic activities.

Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has rejected the charge.

Earlier this month, the court overturned a constitutional amendment allowing female university students to wear head scarves. To many in secular Turkey, the head scarf is an Islamic political symbol.

Mr. Erdogan retorted that the court had no authority to examine constitutional amendments.

The court is also threatening to ban the ruling party itself, which could ban Mr. Erdogan from politics for years and force new general elections.

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