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Greece’s woes provide fuel for Turkish Eurosceptics July 20, 2010

Posted by Yilan in EU, European Union, Turkey.
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In an odd way, whatever happens to Turkey and Greece in the near future is going to test the credibility of the EU.

For Turkey, the accession negotiations are proving to be an uphill struggle. The opening of one negotiating chapter last week -the 13th one- was a small step forward. But only a very small step. Turkey managed to open 13 out of a total 35 negotiating chapters with the EU, but was able to conclude only one, thanks to the obstacles put forward by countries like Cyprus, France, Germany to name but a few. The Turkish government is insisting on its somewhat jaded rhetoric of “Turkey being necessary for the EU more than EU being necessary for Turkey,” but the dubious results so far have reinforced the camp of Eurosceptics in Turkey. Of course, Ankara has got a large part to blame for the slow progress: despite sworn assurances by Turkish government officials of their will to apply reforms, one cannot ignore the marked decrease of enthusiasm for accession to the EU.

But that is one side of the story. An increasing trend of skepticism among certain circles in Turkey over the prospects of Turkey ever joining the “EU club” does not entirely being blamed on Ankara’s failings. After the serious blow that the global financial crisis has caused to its members, more and more opinions are being voiced over the very sustainability of the entire EU project and the capability of the EU to maintain itself as an institution. It is that type of Euro-skepticism that is catching up in Turkey as it watches Brussels being totally absorbed in a desperate struggle to cope with an unprecedented economic and financial crisis while trying to convince its public opinion that it remains a socially caring institution.

And it is on this point that Ankara meets Athens. For several analysts, what was labeled as “Greek crisis” in the autumn of last year –coinciding with the coming to power of the new Socialists of George Papandreou- was not really Greek at all. The volatility of the common EU currency blamed on the “huge Greek public debt” which in turn caused an almost collapse of the financial credibility of Greece, was not entirely Greece’s fault, many analysts claim now: Greece with its inherent weaknesses and structural problems was just a loose link in the EU chain and broke first. But more links are breaking up since then like Spain, Ireland, Italy, France and even U.K. whose governments are forcing almost identical “emergency legislation” through their parliaments-curtailing traditional labor and social security rights. For the citizen of the EU the current global crisis had deep existential dimensions as it demonstrated that ideals historically associated with the European ideals like human rights, freedom of expression, respect to the individual, etc, were the first to suffer under the strain of a financial market economy.

In one week’s time the Greek parliament is expected to approve a new bill that will radically change the fundamental structure of the country’s social security system for the employees of the public sector. A wide reform program on pensions and benefits will demand for both women and men to work until their 65th year and have many of their benefits cut or heavily taxed. The Greek citizens will soon see their income reduced while expected to work longer years. A tough memorandum agreed between the government and representatives of IMF, Eurogroup and the European Bank seems to prevail over the country’s constitution in spite the opposite verdicts by the Greek judicial authorities. Greece has been placed under the “tutelage” of this new emergency scheme devised by the Eurozone states in order to save the credibility of the euro.

The Greeks are very angry, disillusioned and scared for the future. For the moment, their rage targets their politicians whom they see as the main source of their bad fortunes. Traditionally party animals, the Greeks are for the first time showing signs of abandoning their political affiliations. According to an interesting survey published yesterday in the Greek press, the two biggest main parties (the government Socialist PASOK and the main opposition centrist right of New Democracy) hardly attract 39 percent of the public preference while more than 40 percent of the respondents does not find any political party worthy of support. For a country where only a few months ago, the two main parties were attracting a solid 80 percent of the votes, this change is remarkable. And it is even more indicative of deep social changes that the recent economic crisis have brought to the political landscape in Greece, that 49 percent of the respondents believes that the current political system cannot lead the country out of the crisis. Still 64 percent thinks that the time is not right yet for the formation of new parties neither to the left nor to the right.

In spite of the fact that they were beneficiaries of considerable portion of aid funds, the Greeks have always been skeptical of the “EU project”; especially because of Brussel’s lack of any credible foreign policy on major issues like the war in Yugoslavia or Iraq. But this time they see themselves being directly affected by the deep ideological changes brought about by the Lisbon Reform Treaty. Of course their political leadership has got a lot to blame; inherent mentality of nepotism has got a lot to blame. But they also realize that the European structure they thought they belonged to no longer exists. This is what the Turkish Eurosceptics see in the EU, too: as a project that cannot survive in its present form hence Turkey should not spend all its energy trying to belong to an institution whose future is doubtful.

Whatever will happen to both Greece and Turkey from now on will be a crucial test for the EU.

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