Hugh Pope: EU support is needed for Turkey to progress

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Do not be deceived by mocking reports from inside and outside Turkey: despite occasionally clumsy implementation, the trials and investigations known as the Ergenekon scandal are serious and critical to progress in Turkey's slowed negotiations to join the EU.

Since the end of the last period of military rule in 1980-83, the Turks have gradually moved towards greater civilian control of their government. That process has not been smooth, with tanks rolling through streets near the capital in 1997; up to four coup attempts after AKP won power in 2002; and a 2007 posting threatening to intervene on the grounds of supposed Islamism. After that, AKP called the military's bluff with elections. It won an astonishing 47 per cent of the vote.

As with Greece, Spain or Portugal in the past, the attraction and support of the EU has been critical as Turkey modernises away from authoritarianism.

In recent years, however, Angela Merkel of Germany and Nicolas Sarkozy of France have poured cold water on Turkey's hopes for membership. This is the main reason that AKP, since 2005, has implemented few of the expensive, difficult reforms – it feels its goal may be snatched away.

However, the AKP has also been caught up in a life and death struggle with the military, which believes that the Turks need tough leaders like them. AKP leaders are not angels, but the Ergenekon case shows that they are determined to push aside the obstacles to full civilian rule.

It needs the democratic support of the EU too. Britain should rally partners to enable the sympathetic Swedish presidency to reach out. That way the broader EU can show it welcomes a Europeanising Turkey and help the country defeat the militaristic ghosts of its past.

The writer is the Turkey/Cyprus project director of International Crisis Group and the author of 'Sons of the Conquerors: the Rise of the Turkic World'

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