24th Mar 2023

Leaked documents reveal tension between EU and Turkey

  • Mr Erdogan [left] was described by US diplomats as ill-informed (Photo: European Commission)

Leaked US State Department documents on Sunday (28 November) make multiple references to EU accession state Turkey, painting an unflattering description of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan's circle of advisers and highlighting the country's frustrations with French resistance to its EU membership.

The documents, released by WikiLeaks and published in an array of international newspapers, also underline Turkey's feeling of being cheated over recent Nato appointments and its belief that the EU's police training effort in Afghanistan (Eupol) has been a complete failure.

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While Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is portrayed by American officials as a "perfectionist workaholic" but ill-informed, American perceptions of his support team are even less flattering, describing his advisers and foreign minister Ahmet Davutoglu as having little understanding of politics beyond Ankara.

Criticism of Mr Davutoglu included dispatches describing him as "dangerous" and having a "neo-Ottoman" vision.

Ankara's frustrations over the pace of EU membership talks are also evident in the leaked embassy cables, as are French fears over the predominantly Muslim state joining the 27-member union.

During US Assistant Secretary Phillip Gordon's visit to Paris in September 2009, he met with a number of French policy-makers including Elysee diplomatic advisor Jean-David Levitte, who said France still favoured a "privileged partnership" for Turkey rather than full EU membership.

He emphasised however that France was not preventing EU accession negotiations from moving forward in chapters where full membership was not pre-supposed.

Mr Gordon said he felt Turkey had become trapped in a vicious cycle, with Ankara failing to complete necessary reforms because the Turks do not believe that their EU candidacy will be allowed to progress, as indicated in polls.

The French official appeared to agree on this point, but indicated that Paris hoped Turkey itself would eventually decide against full EU membership. In a worst case scenario, France would block Turkish membership if all the negotiating chapters were completed by holding a referendum on the subject, he said.

A cable from foreign Turkish under-secretary Feridun Sinirlioglu to US under-secretary William Burns highlights Ankara's displeasure over recent Nato appointments.

Mr Sinirlioglu recalled a recent deal that included an understanding that a qualified Turk would be considered for Nato assistant secretary general. Instead, he said, a German of questionable merit was selected.

"We suspect a deal between Rasmussen and Merkel," he said. "We let [former Danish prime minister Anders Fogh] Rasmussen have secretary general, because we trusted you."

In the same tense conversation, Turkish ambassador Tacan Ildem, who recently concluded an assignment as Turkey's Nato permanent representative, declared the EU's police training effort in Afghanistan (Eupol) to be a failure. He added that the EU's criticism of Turkey's unwillingness to work directly with Eupol is unjustified.

He argued that since Turkey does not have a security agreement with the EU and is excluded from the European Security and Defense Policy (ESDP), the government lacks a legal basis on which to co-operate with Eupol. "We would like the EU to involve us not as a third country, but, in view of our accumulated rights," as a candidate for membership, he said.

Another cable outlines discussions during the second annual Franco-Israeli Strategic Dialogue in October 2009, during which Israeli participants expressed deep concerns about Turkey, according to Frederic Bereyziat, a senior French foreign ministry official who took notes on the meeting.

"The Israelis blamed the Europeans, and especially France, for this shift in Turkey's policy [to a more pro-Arab stance," Mr Bereyziat noted, according to the cable. "They said that if Europe had more warmly embraced Turkey, then the Turks would not be taking steps to earn approval in the Arab and Muslim world at the expense of Israel."

"The French, in response to this accusation, 'begged to differ,'" Bereyziat noted as a follow up.

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