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Turkey may lose stability

Friday 12 January 2007, by Mete Belovacikli

Source : The New Anatolian, 9-11-2006

Turkish-EU relations have become the subject of much controversy, but we have to leave aside these debates and look at relations affecting Turkey’s future roadmap. First we should note that Turkey has kept its stability for a long while due to two pegs: its relations with the EU and International Money Fund programs.

One may criticize Turkey’s relations with the two bodies but our aim is to understand their importance.

Turkey is facing the risk of losing these two pegs after a long stable period. The relationship with the IMF is deteriorating. Yet again it’s early to assert that communication between the IMF and the country is about to face a deep crisis. However the looming general elections set for next autumn makes economic policies shrinking domestic demand a serious problem for the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party government. That’s why I assert that AK Party-IMF relations have been showing danger signals, but a crisis is still far away. We’ll return to this point again but let’s now focus on EU-Turkish relations.

The progress report is not austere for the most. Moreover it is said to include clauses to relieve Turkey. But the fact is that the continuation of the harbor problem between the two and the European Commission’s very critical report on Turkey has led to an escalation in concern. Western observers have begun to figure that the EU and the U.S. will start to ask whether populous, secular Turkey will turn its face to the East if relations are cut. Beware! Commentators have begun to discuss the breaking off thesis.

No, this won’t happen, but the relationship may be suspended unofficially. I say unofficially because no parties are ready to carry the political responsibility for such a suspension. In other words, the relationship might be left fallow to prevent the breaking off that may happen if tension escalates to an uncontrollable level.

This literally will mean a loss of one of the country’s stability pegs. Although some advocate the view that the EU’s fundamental aim is to push Turkey to continue its reform process, referring to remarks from Brussels that EU criticism is only meant to draw attention to a periodic downturn in the process while also encouraging Turkey to continue as it would be a grave mistake to stop the process. To me this is an incorrect stance.

The reason being is that it’s unrealistic to impose the opening of harbors and to demand the continuation of the reform process without interruption altogether. Such impositions lead relations to deteriorate rather than to improve. These also lead public approval for EU membership to fall. In such circumstances, and also considering the approaching general elections, no politician will be willing to introduce new political reforms.

Let’s return to IMF-Turkish relations. If relations are suspended, Turkey will only have one peg to maintain stability: sticking to the IMF program. If the government manages to do this, stability will remain a difficult but strong possibility. But if it loses the two altogether, instability is unavoidable.

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