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EU Concerned About Turkey's Stability - 2002-07-12

Western nations are nervously watching the political turmoil in Turkey. Turkey's biggest crisis in years has officials and investors in the United States and Europe on edge.

The European Union is voicing concern about the situation in Turkey, but said it will not interfere in the nation's domestic affairs.

Turkey is the only country among the 13 candidates for membership in the EU that has yet to begin negotiations with the bloc.

Brussels refuses to negotiate, until Turkey scraps the death penalty, ensures civilian control of the powerful armed forces and grants cultural rights to minority Kurds, all of which are controversial issues in Turkey.

The European Union also wants Turkey to pressure Turkish Cypriots into cutting a deal with the internationally recognized Greek Cypriot government so that their island can be reunited and become an EU member by 2004.

Turkey, a pivotal member of NATO, is also a key ally in the U.S.-led war on terrorism, and Washington needs its support in any action the United States takes against Turkey's neighbor, Iraq. With $30 billion in loans, Turkey is also the International Monetary Fund's biggest debtor.

Diplomats in Brussels say a prolonged crisis will reduce the chances of a Cyprus settlement, as well as approval of the reforms Turkey needs to launch its membership negotiations with the European Union. Some are hopeful that the new center-left movement launched Friday by former Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem will keep those projects on track.

In a country where infighting among political parties is the norm, Mr. Cem told reporters in Ankara, through an interpreter, that his new movement is geared toward changing the face of Turkey and making it more modern and outward-looking.

"We are now forming our new political party and our party will be the vanguard of this social change," Mr. Cem said.

Ailing Prime Minister Bulent Ecevit, from whose party Mr. Cem and several dozen other legislators defected this week, said he will fight to the bitter end to keep his three-party coalition in power. He rejected calls by allies and opponents for early elections.

Dwyfor Evans, an analyst with the Bank of America in London, said early elections, which he sees as inevitable, would be a leap into the unknown. He said it is impossible to know if Mr. Cem's movement could win such a poll.

"The fear of an early election and an election result is that the elections could actually be won by the more Islamic parties, which are, by definition, anti-NATO, anti-European Union and tend to look east rather than west. And so, early elections, yes, in the main, are a good thing, but only if we get the right results from those elections," Mr. Evans said.

Public opinion surveys in Turkey show that voters have little trust in a fractious political establishment. Neither does the army. But the army also fears the newly-formed opposition AK party because of its Islamist roots. A Turkish diplomat in Brussels says a new centrist movement with respected leaders such as Mr. Cem might appeal to the military.

Financial markets want Economy Minister Kemal Dervis to stay on, whether as part of Mr. Ecevit's moribund coalition or as part of Mr. Cem's movement. Mr. Dervis, considered the architect of Turkey's economic restructuring program, is at present walking a tightrope, still a part of the Ecevit government but sympathizing with the reformist aims of Mr. Cem.

Financial analyst Philip Poole of ING Barings in London, said a stable political environment is needed in Turkey, so that Mr. Dervis can continue to implement his multi-billion-dollar, IMF-backed recovery plan.

"What really needs to happen, I think, is a sustained implementation of the IMF measures. There's been a lot of progress on legislation. That's undeniable. But the implementation phase of a program like this is always more difficult than the legislative phase. And what we need is sustained implementation," Mr. Poole said.

Diplomats with experience in Turkey said that, as the current crisis keeps unfolding, nothing less than the future of the country is at stake. Will Turkey become a modern, stable nation that opens up to Europe? Or will it turn its back on the West, become more nationalist, and lose all hope of the massive foreign investment it needs?