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The Kurdish Region of Iraq.
Jul 25th 2009

Iraq's Kurds head to the polls for an unusually competitive election.

After the election, the winners will have to deal with the increasingly tricky matter of relations with Baghdad. As security in the rest of the country has improved, the territorial disputes between the Kurds and the Arabs, in particular over the oil-rich city of Kirkuk and in nearby parts of Nineveh and Diyala provinces, have become worse. On a trip to Washington this week to meet Barack Obama, Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, said that the tension between the Kurdish north and the rest of the country was one of the most dangerous challenges facing Iraq.

Kurdish officials had hoped that a long-delayed referendum to decide whether Kirkuk and other Kurdish-populated areas should become part of their semi-autonomous region could be included in Saturday’s election, but Iraq’s electoral commission ruled it out. Non-Kurdish Iraqis are, unsurprisingly, keen to hang onto Kirkuk, and there are arguments with the authorities in Baghdad over these “disputed territories” and the Kurds’ rights to sign oil contracts of their own. The Mosul problem and Tukmens' contention there is next in line.



Posted on on July 24th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (

Minority Rights Group International welcomes the election of pro-Kurdish MPs in Turkey, warns much remains to be achieved.

Minority Rights Group International welcomes the election of pro-Kurdish MPs in Turkey but notes that the victory highlights how much work still needs to be done.

‘Having independent candidates is a positive development for the representation of Kurds in the Turkish parliament. However, this win shows the reality of the election system in Turkey, a system which includes a 10 percent threshold, which forbids the use of languages other than Turkish in political parties’ activities (including congress and election campaigns), which forbids alleging the existence of racial, religious and linguistic minorities in Turkey, and forbids campaigning for the protection and promotion of languages other than Turkish. These laws need to be changed to ensure the effective participation of national minorities.

‘Running as independent candidates is one way to avoid the indirect discrimination that has been rife in the Turkish electoral system for so long. But candidates should not have to resort to these tactics – the threshold should be lowered and discrimination tackled at its root.’

Turkey requires a political party should receive 10 per cent of votes in a general election in order to win a seat. This high threshold has stopped pro Kurdish parties such as the Democratic Society Party, (DTP) from gaining representation. Independent candidates are exempt from the threshold, and by standing as such, 24 pro Kurdish candidates have won their seats in Sunday’s election.

In 1991, Leyla Zana a Kurdish parliamentarian spoke her language in parliament and was later arrested and jailed for 15 years with three other MPs. MRG says: ‘It is vital that the new independent candidates should be able to use their democratic and legal rights freely, without being subject to any arbitrary prosecution and arrests.’


Minority Rights Group International (MRG) is a non governmental organisation working to secure the rights of ethnic, religious and linguistic minorities and indigenous peoples worldwide

For more information please visit

Or contact:
Monica Evans and Emma Eastwood,
Minority Rights Group International

Tel +44(0)2074334205

 press at


Turkey’s pro-European party wins elections.

From Brusells, 23.07.2007 , by Lucia Kubosova,
Following a landslide victory in parliamentary elections, the current Turkish prime minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan has vowed to continue pressing for economic growth and political reforms designed to prepare the country for the EU membership.

The ruling AK party of moderate Islamists received around 47 percent of the votes in a poll held on Sunday (22 July), up by 12 points compared to 2002 elections.

Due to a more united opposition it will however have slightly fewer seats than before, in the 550-seat parliament.

Turkey’s legislature will house two other secularist parties – the nationalist Republican People’s Party and the far-right National Movement Party, as well as up to 27 independent deputies, mainly representing the Kurdish minority.

Analysts predict the first key test of the politically enhanced government party will be the presidency vote, as the previous nominations of its own candidates for the post have led to a crisis sparking the early elections.

Secularist forces in the country, led by powerful military leaders, have accused Mr Erdogan’s team of pursuing an Islamist agenda, which threatens the non-religious character of Turkey’s political system by pushing for a president from its ranks.

The chief of general staff warned in April, that the army would intervene if the republic’s secular values were in danger, referring to the potential break in a long-term tradition of a strictly secular presidency.

Back then, the European Commission warned the military against such intervention, arguing that it would not be in line with democratic principles cherished in the EU which Turkey aspires to join.

Although there is a widespread scepticism among Turkish citizens about the country’s chances to eventually receive a go-ahead for EU membership, Mr Erdogan insisted his new government would stick to a pro-EU agenda.

“We will continue to work with determination to achieve our European goal,” he told his supporters in Ankara on Sunday post-election night.

Erdogan and the EU
In reaction to his party’s “impressive” victory, the Commission president Jose Manuel Barroso congratulated Mr Erdogan, praising him for “his personal commitment to the sustained movement towards the European Union.”

However, in an interview for a Greek newspaper Kathimerini shortly before the elections, Mr Barroso argued “Turkey is not ready to become an EU member and the EU is not ready to accept Turkey as a member – neither tomorrow nor the day after tomorrow.”

Last December, the EU cut off talks with Ankara – started just a year before, on eight areas, due to its reluctance to open ports and airspace to Cypriot ships and planes.

Both Brussels and Ankara have been trying to keep talks going at a technical level in the meantime, with four negotiating chapters having been opened so far.

But the arrival of Mr Sarkozy has put the whole process into question, with the new French president saying Turkey has “no place” in Europe and suggesting some sort of privileged partnership instead of EU entry.

On the other hand, Portugal as the current EU presidency is a staunch supporter of Turkey’s EU ambitions and aims to move ahead with its negotiations during its six-month term at the bloc’s helm.


Turkey: a Triumphant, but Poisoned Victory for Erdogan.
By Marc Semo, Libération, Monday 23 July 2007.
Translation: t r u t h o u t French language correspondent Leslie Thatcher.

With 47% of the votes in Sunday’s legislative elections, the outgoing prime minister – who comes from the Islamist movement – has raked in results that go far beyond the most optimistic prognostications. But the crisis between Islamist Turkey and secular Turkey persists.
It’s a quasi-plebiscite for Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the outgoing prime minister from the Islamist movement. Already the favorite in the polls, the AKP (Justice and Development Party) has raked in results that go well beyond the most optimistic prognostications, obtaining over 47% of the votes in the July 22 legislative elections. An increase of over 12 points compared to 2002. “It’s the first time in over 50 years that a party in power is re-elected with a better result than it obtained in the preceding elections,” thundered Recep Tayyip Erdogan Sunday night, speaking to Ankara from the balcony at AKP headquarters.

By his side was his wife Emine, wearing a strict Islamist headscarf, and the man Erdogan calls his “brother,” Abdullah Gül, Foreign Affairs Minister, also standing alongside his own veiled wife. That scene constitutes a symbol. It was, in fact, the AKP’s inability to have the parliament elect Abdullah Gül to the presidency of the Republic last April that created a long political crisis culminating in Sunday’s early elections. The presidential election required a quorum of 2/3 of the deputies. The secular CHP (People’s Republican Party) opposition had boycotted the vote, deeming that Gül’s arrival in the Cankaya palace, the Turkish White House, would have given all the levers of power to Islamists, imperiling the secular and Jacobin Republic created by Mustapha Kemal on the rubble of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. The military had clearly indicated that they were worried about that danger and asserted their opposition to Abdullah Gül’s arrival in the presidency. “We need a president who is attached to the Constitution and to secularism by more than lip service,” thundered Chief of Staff General Yasar Büyükanit.

After the Sunday vote, the crisis between the two Turkeys remains intact. The CHP, which barely obtained 20% of the votes, did not succeed in capitalizing the vote of the millions of Turks who demonstrated for the defense of secularism in recent months. But the AKP, the great victor in the election, with 341 of the 550 seats, still does not have the 2/3 majority that would allow it to pass off its presidential candidate. Technically, it could be possible to reach the quorum of 367 votes with the 28 independent Kurdish deputies … But, politically, such a solution is unlikely since those deputies are, in fact, DTP (Movement for a Democratic Society) representatives and Ankara considers their party to be the “political showcase” for the PKK (Kurdish Workers’ Party), Kurdish rebels who conduct armed struggle in the country’s Kurdish majority southeast.

Consequently, the situation seems blocked, inasmuch as Recep Tayyip Erdogan, intoxicated by his victory, seems to want to raise the stakes. Abdullah Gül’s presence at his side on the balcony the evening of his triumph clearly shows that, for the moment, the prime minister still counts on making him his candidate. The crowd of militants in the street, moreover, was chanting “Gül president,” in a movement which had nothing spontaneous about it.

To dot the “i’s” with even greater precision, the prime minister declared in an interview with the daily Milliyet that “the result of the vote is also a reaction to the injustice done Abdullah Gül.” Certainly, Turkish political life is made of compromise. But here, the room for maneuver is truly very narrow, given that Erdogan must also reckon with the temper of a base galvanized by this ballot box triumph.

For Recep Tayyip Erdogan has now reached the moment of truth. The AKP has obviously benefited from the votes of Islamists, but also, and more than in 2002, from the votes of those liberals and reformers disgusted with the stasis and the nationalism of the Kemalist Left.

Unlike in 2002, Erdogan, on Sunday night, had only a few words about Europe in all his long speech. He knows the mood of a country is ever more skeptical of Europe in response to the Western attitude about Turkish adhesion. But will he be able to continue down the path of reforms? “He has received an enormous and clear popular mandate,” according to the analysis of academic Cengiz Aktar, a specialist in European questions who nonetheless emphasizes that “if he does not conduct these great democratic changes and the reform of the Constitution, and if he does not clearly continue along the road to Europe, all those liberals and centrists who gave him this triumph will turn away from the AKP.” And then he’ll be facing the secularists and the military alone.


Posted on on May 11th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (

Russia and China resist EU play for Central Asia.

By Andrew Rettman EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS , May 8, 2007.

Russia and China are trying to counter EU efforts to secure fresh energy supplies in Central Asia, the EU’s top regional envoy, Pierre Morel, has warned, with analysts worried Turkey could also start competing with European interests if its EU accession hopes fade.

“There’s a level of competition – you’ve got Russia, China and the US. There’s Turkey as well, and India is developing a strategy,” Mr Morel told MEPs at a European Parliament debate in Brussels on Tuesday (8 May), as Europe gears up to launch its first ever Central Asia policy at the June EU summit.

Focusing on Russia and China, the diplomat explained that despite traditional “rivalry” between Moscow and Beijing, the pair are increasingly using the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation – a dormant anti-terrorist club formed in 2001 – to discuss the energy map in Central Asia.

He described the duo’s strategy on Central Asia as a “head of state approach” that differs from the EU’s €750 million Central Asia aid package for 2007 to 2013, which is based on wider social, trade and environmental projects designed to nurture long-term stability.

“I don’t think there’s an equivalent from Russia or China in terms of water or environmental management,” Mr Morel said, adding that EU “institutional strengthening” – it wants to remodel Central Asian judiciaries and parliaments – is the only way to bring in major, international energy investors.

“Just having a head of state approach will not help,” he explained. “The Russians have not struck the right level yet. These countries fear the return of Russia or at least of energy being used as a leverage against them.”

Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan broke away from the Soviet Union in the 1990s and are believed to hold up to 5 percent of the world’s energy resources.

But almost all their oil and gas exports to Europe are currently shipped via Russian-owned pipelines, with Brussels feeling increasingly uncomfortable about its energy dependency on the Kremlin.

Russia’s post-colonial game
In terms of Russia’s “head of state approach,” Moscow’s tactics seem to consist of a mix of intimidation and encouragement for the authoritarian regimes that run the three energy-rich Central Asian states.

“Turkmenistan is very important in terms of gas deliveries to Russia. Russia is going to use Turkmenistan to meet its [natural gas export] commitments,” Mr Morel explained, six months after the sudden death of Turkmen president, Saparmurat Niyazov, which handed control of the country back to the Soviet-era administrative elite.

Estonian socialist MEP Katrin Saks also told Mr Morel on Tuesday that “It was clear during our talks that Kazakhstan was being put under great pressure from Russia on the energy issue,” after visiting Astana as part of a European Parliament delegation last week.

In the case of Uzbekistan, Russia and China’s willingness to tolerate gross human rights violations have seen Uzbek government-backed Russian and Chinese investors drive out US and German companies at a “spectacular” rate, Ms Saks said.

The Turkey question
Meanwhile, EU candidate Turkey sees itself as a natural partner for EU energy interests in Central Asia, due to its geographic position and historic links with the ethnically-Turkic population scattered in neighbouring states. But some analysts wonder how Ankara will react if its bid to join the EU fails.

“Turkish policy towards Central Asia…has a tendency to ebb and flow as Turkey is rejected or not by the west, and the result is that now we see Turkey embracing Central Asia once again with a renewed emphasis on pan-Turkism,” Raffaello Pantucci of the London-based International Institute of Strategic Studies told EUobserver.

“If it plays its cards right, it could become a critical nub for Central Asian energy supplies…[which] seems to be one of Turkey’s major alternatives in the face of European rejection,” he added.

“We have special ties and vested interests in the Eurasia region, but we have never viewed our relations with the region as an alternative to our EU course,” a Turkish diplomat said. “I don’t think Mr Sarkozy’s presidency will change our position on that,” the contact added, on the new French president’s anti-Turkey accession policy.


[Comment] The EU and Central Asia: from great gaming to gradual playing.

By Raffaello Pantucci, EUOBSERVER / COMMENT (an oppinion piece) May 9, 2007.

The European Commission is not prone to dramatic or sudden shifts, which is the product of a long tradition of rational contemplation that Europeans are so proud of, but more literally, it is due to the simple reality of juggling a decision-making process that has 27 members involved in it. One product of this are ruminative foreign policies, like the new EU policy on Central Asia, that may seem paralysingly slow to outsiders, but in reality have a distinct forward momentum.

It is instrumental to examine early drafts that have been circulating of the EU’s new strategy on Central Asia through this prism and therefore view them with some tentative optimism. We have not seen any grand offerings of immense wealth or exaggerated security benefits; we instead view a branch being offered that attempts to marry the hard economic realities of European energy needs with a desire to help nurture European democratic norms in another part of the globe.

It is not surprising that we have seen this renewed interest in Central Asia under a German Presidency. Germany remains the only European member state with a full complement of embassies in all five Central Asian states, and chancellor Merkel and foreign minister Steimeier have both repeatedly spoken of their desire to reach out and stabilize European relations with their Eurasian partners.

Furthermore, chancellor Merkel has also presented herself as a European leader who is willing to take a more robust stance in regards to Russia. This has not resulted, as some feared, in an apocalyptic schism with Russia, but rather it has produced the beginnings of a balancing in relations between Russia and the EU. While there are undeniable tensions coming to the surface once again – it is worth noting that so far no-one has suggested that Russia turn off the gas taps.

In this regard it is particularly interesting to note that Russia as a topic in early drafts fails to merit much mention at all. A very early draft referred constantly to a strong Russian presence in the region, while in later ones Russia is only noticeable where it would appear to be missing. There is an emphasis on the importance of gas deliveries from the region, the “construction of new oil and gas pipelines to Europe,” and the word “diversification” is used regularly in an energy context. No mention of the EU’s current key energy supplier and former big brother to Central Asia.

Instead, the EU strategy seems to be a seven-pronged approach with a heavy emphasis on the softer side of relations: youth and education; human rights, rule of law, good governance and democratization; economic development, trade and investment; energy and transport links; environment and regional water security; combating terrorism, transnational crime, and drugs; and finally a typically nebulous European desire to “promote dialogue within civil society and respect for freedom of religion.”

At every level, the emphasis is made to work towards “common aspects as well as specific nation contexts,” showing an EU awareness that each nation in the group has varying needs, and there are clear incentives – the doubling of “financial means to assist Central Asia” and the offer to “support…the WTO accession process and eventual membership” of all five members of the Central Asian cluster (currently only the Kyrgyz Republic is a member of the WTO, while Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan remain observers and Turkmenistan is completely outside).

On the other hand, however, there is an unavoidable emphasis on “democracy” and “human rights,” something that sparked the anthropological rebuke to “take into consideration [our] countries’ national traditions, history, and…mentality” from Uzbek foreign minister Vladimir Norov at a joint press conference on March 28th in Astana.

This is a not entirely surprising comment given the EU’s ongoing retention of an arms and travel embargo on Uzbekistan. Initially a reaction to the May 2005 incident at Andijan (where an unknown number of protestors were killed by government forces) the sanctions and the subsequent Uzbek decision to ask the United States to abandon bases on its territory have left EU-Uzbek and US-Uzbek relations on hold. The main result of this has been for Uzbekistan to wander into the warm embrace of its Russian and Chinese neighbours, who offer a less emphatically “democratic” and more pragmatic relationship.

What is particularly interesting about the new EU strategy, however, is its awareness of the new “great game” that it is trying to play a part of in the region. “Human rights” may play a prominent role, but they are matched by a bevy of realpolitik economic and energy related carrots. While they are not quite the no-strings-attached offers put on the table by the Chinese, they do instead offer “sustainable development” and “capacity building” in contrast to the Chinese tendency to prefer to rely on their own firms to construct local capacity.

There is further no mention of the United States or NATO, both subjects with historical baggage: it seems the EU is eager to re-write its history from scratch in Central Asia. China and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization only merit a strategically brief mention in the fight against drugs and transboundary crime in the region.

Internally within the EU, there are many reasons for optimism within this renewed strategy. Germany has made a point of aligning its policies as presidency of the EU with the next two presidencies (Portugal and Slovenia), providing some unusual continuity in European policy. Currently, the EU is broadly shut out of Central Asia, and shares no contiguous borders with the region: the positive side to this is that the EU is able to steer the rudder towards an internal consensus on the region without having too many onerous member state caveats attached to potential policy. And the member state with the most to worry about, Germany, is the one currently at the rudder anyway.

At a time when European credibility in the world is slipping, a successful policy towards Central Asia would provide the EU’s Common Security and Foreign Policy with a much needed shot in the arm. Hopefully a nurturing incrementalist policy, that will not devolve into an all-too-common Euro-stagnation.

Raffaello Pantucci is a research associate at the London-based think-tank, the International Institute for Strategic Studies


France wants to save major part of EU constitution, Sarkozy aide says.

By Lucia Kubosova, EUOBSERVER / BRUSSELS, May 8, 2007.

France’s Nicolas Sarkozy will seek to maintain as much of the rejected EU constitution as possible in the upcoming talks on a new treaty for the bloc, a top aide to the president-elect has told EUobserver.

Alain Lamassoure, a prominent centre-right MEP and tipped to be the new Europe minister in the Sarkozy government, said Paris will agree to stick “as much as possible to the original text.”

His comments indicate that Mr Sarkozy is in favour of a re-packaged text containing essentially the same elements.

Referring to removing the EU symbols proposed in the original text as part of a general approach to take away the constitutional feel to the new treaty, Mr Lamassoure said “we will play the European hymn or fly the flag whether it is mentioned in the new treaty or not.”

He added that the same applies to the exact title of the future EU’s foreign affairs minister. “As long as his status and powers are preserved we’re fine with [a title change].”

He expects the new “ordinary treaty” – adopted by national parliaments where possible – will have a maximum of 130 instead of the 448 articles originally proposed.

The institutional changes should remain untouched while the Charter of Fundamental Rights, currently appearing as a whole within the text and raising several legal question for member states – being referred to by a single article.

“That way, the charter can be interpreted as legally binding in some countries, such as France and Germany, and non-binding in others, such as the UK.”

Referring to the third part of the constitution which lists EU policies, Mr Lamassoure, who is part of Mr Sarkozy’s inner political circle, says “we must distinguish between provisions that are already present in previous treaties and can be dropped as we do not need to replicate them and the new provisions which need to remain.”

He indicated France is not prepared to compromise on the list of new areas to be decided by qualified majority rather than unanimity, while admitting that this could become one of the most contentious issues, particularly for the UK.

“This is non-negotiable as it is one of the provisions with the most important added value of the new treaty which seeks to help the enlarged EU to work more efficiently.”

The MEP’s statements are the first clear public indication of what Paris will be calling for at the EU table when leaders meet to discuss a new institutional settlement next month – a clear French position on the issue has been lacking since French voters rejected the constitution in a referendum almost two years ago.

Defining Europe’s borders
Touching on another highly controversial issue, Mr Lamassoure said Paris is going to push for a definition of the bloc’s borders in the coming months and a “reorientation” of talks with Turkey.

“EU leaders have been lying to Turks for the past few years and the new French leadership believes we must stop doing so,” he said, referring to the bloc’s membership negotiations with Ankara kicked off last October.

He argues that citizens in most EU member states are against Turkey joining the union and that it was a main factor in the French rejection of the EU constitution.

“The sooner we will have the courage to say this openly to Turkey the better,” said Mr Lamassoure, pointing out that Paris will seek a “re-orientation” of the whole accession talks in which “at the very least, we clearly open other options for the final outcome -other than membership.”

“If everything goes well and we agree on the revised EU treaty by the end of this year we envisage that we could also at the same time present to citizens a common political declaration on the ultimate borders of Europe,” Mr Lamassoure said.

He said that Paris recognizes the bloc’s commitments to the Balkan countries but that “the [EU] borders must be that of the continent.”

His comments come on the back of a presidential campaign by Mr Sarkozy in which he repeatedly said he was opposed to Turkish membership.

Mr Lamassoure said that while Mr Sarkozy will be careful not to hijack next month’s summit on drawing up an EU treaty with the Turkey question, “we definitely don’t want to postpone this issue for too long.”


Call for veto powers for MPs in new EU treaty.

By Honor Mahony, May 9, 2007.
Prague, Warsaw and the Hague are lobbying to get more power for national parliaments written into a new-look constitution for the European bloc.

According to a report in the German daily Handelsblatt, the three countries want MPs to have the right to refuse legislation coming from Brussels.

At the moment the constitution – rejected by Dutch and French voters two years ago – gives parliaments the right to complain about proposed EU legislation, but the European Commission is not obliged to withdraw it despite any complaints.

Under the trio’s veto scheme, if a third of national parliaments objected to a proposed EU law then it would automatically fail.

This idea also came up during the year and a half long convention to draw up the EU constitution in 2001-2002, but was rejected after opponents argued it would upset the balance of power between the EU institutions – it was particularly opposed by representatives from the European Parliament.

German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok, who was in Berlin along with his colleagues from the parliament’s constitutional affairs committee, told Handelsblatt that the “right of veto for national parliaments would mean the introduction of a virtual third chamber.”

According to the MEP, the the Polish, Czech and Dutch plan also faces some opposition from within the German chancellor’s office.

Treaty talks gather pace
The idea is part of overall negotiations on the EU treaty, which are gathering pace as a June deadline approaches for agreeing the skeleton of a new-look constitution and a timetable for its implementation.

While 18 countries have mainly ratified the original constitution, several of the remaining nine are making demands for change so that they can better sell it to a sceptical domestic public.

Among the most controversial areas are proposals for a new voting system in the treaty – Poland has asked for changes to be made – and the extension of qualified majority to several new areas, which is problematic for Britain.

The Dutch government meanwhile has been making it clear it cannot go back to The Hague without having secured substantial changes to show it has taken on board the rejection of the constitution by Dutch voters in June 2005.

According to sources, a new treaty is also set to have some additional features – including a mention of fighting climate change and an energy solidarity clause, the last as a sop to Warsaw.

It is also expected that enlargement criteria will be written into the new treaty.


[Comment] Turkey may be France’s price for the new EU treaty

May 11, 2007, Opinion Piece by Peter Sain ley Berry EUOBSERVER / COMMENT.

Two weeks ago I suggested in these pages that from a European perspective the French Presidential contender Ségolène Royal might be a better choice than Nicolas Sarkozy.

I argued that it would be necessary to put any revised constitutional treaty to a second referendum in France (the alternative would be to enlarge the EU’s democratic deficit to dangerous proportions). As the opposition to the first treaty had come, at least in part, from a perception that it would undermine the French system of social welfare, a left-wing president could more easily reassure voters, I argued, and so carry such a referendum early in her first term.

It was perhaps a forlorn piece of analysis, for within a point or two the outcome of the second round, which elected Nicolas Sarkozy, was clear from the results of the first. All the evidence showed that supporters of the centrist, François Bayrou, would divide equally between both camps. And this they did. It would have needed three-quarters of them to have backed Ségolène Royal for her to have scraped a win and all of them for her to have won convincingly. This was never going to happen.

The policies of M. Sarkozy are widely held to be what France needs. I wouldn’t dissent from that view. His ideas on economic reform also chime with the greater part of the Commission’s free market Lisbon agenda, now beginning to show results in terms of rising levels of GDP growth. Though before the free market contingent get too carried away we must remember that the new French President-elect is still at heart an economic nationalist, like his predecessor.

Whether he will be able to implement the reforms he wishes to see is of course another matter. Sarkozy has been likened to Margaret Thatcher, Prime Minister of Britain from 1979 to 1990, who carried through far reaching economic reforms and broke what was perceived as the trade union stranglehold on enterprise. But Thatcher, at least in her early days, embodied a good deal of popular will, importantly from across the working population. Whether Sarkozy has that same support is doubtful.

An interesting analysis by Eric Dupin writing in Le Figaro shows that apart from business owners and the Poujadist rump of the self-employed, those in paid employment voted more often for Royal than for her rival. Sarkozy’s real support came from the older generation, the over 50s, people in the main who were either retired or otherwise inactive economically. Royal had far more support among the young and the employed.

Sarkozy may pose the question, ‘who governs France?’ But the unions may answer ‘we do’ and, moreover, have the forces on the ground to prove it. The President’s irresistible force may meet an immovable object – the resulting stalemate doing neither France nor the rest of Europe much good.

The resistance is likely to be heightened if Sarkozy tries to ratify a new constitutional treaty, in effect the old treaty with a new name, through Parliament alone. We assume that he will be able to command a majority in the Assembly, at least on this issue, though even that cannot be taken for granted.

The idea of a truly mini-treaty, limited to updating voting weights in the European Council and giving that body a semi-permanent Chair, seems to have disappeared. Except in capitals such as London and Warsaw, it always seemed an impractical suggestion.

The European Commission is also viewing Sarkozy with apprehension over his attitude to Turkey. During the election he made it plain that while he accepts the Balkan states should eventually be admitted to the Union, this does not extend to Asia Minor. The talk is all about other types of relationships that might be invented for Turkey (and presumably other non-Balkan aspirants such as the Ukraine).

He is, of course, not alone in voicing such doubts; other leaders, indeed the German Chancellor herself, have never been convinced of Turkey’s future place in Europe, however far in the future that place may lie.

This has led to a ruffling of feathers in the Berlaymont hencoop, with no one quite sure whether to ignore the French President-elect or to remind him of Europe’s obligations. As he is only President-elect – and on holiday to boot – he is something of a will o’ the wisp. He cannot easily be criticised. Nevertheless, guarded statements about the necessity of respecting European commitments are cropping up with regularity. Even Margot Wallström had a pop at him on her blog this week.

It is not impossible that Turkey might commit some act of folly – such as a military coup – that would disbar the country, at least for a while – and let Europe of the hook. Recent rumblings from the Turkish military about the need to safeguard Kemal Attaturk’s secular legacy were serious enough and led Olli Rehn, the Enlargement Commissioner, to issue a veiled reminder about the need to respect state institutions.

Not impossible perhaps, but unlikely. Which will leave us in a tricky position come June when Mrs Merkel hopes and expects to have the roadmap to the EU’s constitutional reform agreed.

I have to say the prospects for this were looking uncertain before Sarkozy’s election; after it they look even bleaker. Sarkozy appears likely to insist that the new treaty does not compromise on the issues to be settled by majority voting that were written into the old treaty. This may prove contentious, especially, in London, where Gordon Brown is expected to have taken over from Tony Blair by mid-July.

But it is Sarkozy’s position on Turkey and his insistence that a new treaty say something about the EU’s boundaries that is likely to prove more difficult – at least in the short time that remains. I happen to agree with this position and have argued the point several times in this column. But to attempt an agreement on this in the few weeks that remain before the June European Council may well prove impossible.

Nevertheless, some statement along these lines may be Sarkozy’s price for delivering a French ratification. He may even have the majority of the French electorate behind him also. He is something of a Napoleonic figure, after all; not averse to using a whiff of grapeshot to get his way. I foresee trouble ahead.

The author is editor of EuropaWorld


Posted on on February 7th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (

It beats us – With the various revolts of the Kurds of Iraq – we always thought that Turkey should make peace with its own Kurdish minority – establish sort of a bi-national State with a degree of autonomy for its own Kurds – then help the unification of their Turkish region with the Iraqi Kurdistan as part of their own Kurdish entity. Had they done this, turkey would also be a prize morsel for the EU and gain fast acceptance.

In the past we mentioned above idea as questions to several Turkish high diplomats including an Ambassador to the UN whom we met at the New York Carnegie Institution for Peace. Last year, with the Turkish Prime Minister as part of the Spanish – Turkish duo proposing the “Alliance of Civilizations” at the UN, we directed the later part of the question directly to the Turkish Prime Minister. His answer was – “go and ask the Europeans!” This as if he wanted first from the Europeans an OK on such a move. We did not think that this was enough matter to pursue it further.

Now published the following article, and we thought it important enough to repost it on our website:

Turkey Could Emerge as a New Threat in Iraq.
Mohammed A. Salih

ARBIL, Feb 2 (IPS) – Growing confrontation between Iraqi Kurds and neighbouring Turkey presents a new threat to a fragile calm in the north.

Tensions have run high between Iraqi Kurds and Turkey since the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, but they were further exacerbated last month when Turkish Prime Minister Recep Teyyip Erdogan threatened to send forces to northern Iraq.

The aim, Erdogan said, was to crack down on guerrillas of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK) and to protect the rights of ethnic Turkomens in the oil-rich city Kirkuk.

“There are efforts to alter the demographic structure of Kirkuk. We cannot remain a bystander to such developments,” Erdogan told members of his ruling Justice and Development Party Jan. 17.

Some Kurdish leaders fear a new war front could open up in Iraq’s northern Kurdistan region, which has been by far the safest part of the war-torn country. They fear this could open the door for further intervention by other regional powers like Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia.

While Turkey speaks of the PKK and Turkomens’ rights in Iraq to justify any possible military invasion, some analysts speak of its other intentions.

“One clear reason for military invasion by Turkey would be their old ambition to re-annex Mosul ‘Vilayet’ (province) to its territory. They are still thinking in terms of the old Ottoman empire,” Ata Qaradakhi, a political analyst from Sulaimaniya in Kurdistan told IPS.

Iraq’s major northern provinces which were once a part of the Mosul Vilayet under the Ottoman empire were incorporated into the Iraqi state when it was founded in the early years of the 20th century by Britain.

“Turkish leaders are also worried over the growing influence and authority of the Kurdistan Regional Government in Iraq since the fall of Saddam, and fear it could inspire their own Kurdish population,” Qaradakhi added.

Over the past few weeks, movements by Turkish troops on the border with Iraq are reported to have increased. Turkey has deployed around 240,000 troops on the border strip with Iraq, and has bombarded areas within northern Iraqi Kurdistan region several times over the past eight months.

In the 1990s, Turkish troops carried out cross-border operations in pursuit of PKK guerrillas based in Iraqi Kurdistan.

The Kurdistan regional parliament held a meeting last week to discuss increasing threats of a Turkish military invasion.

“It is true that we must be on alert, and careful, but shouldn’t attach too much importance to threats by the Turkish parliament or other parties (in that country),” Prime Minister of the Kurdistan Regional Government Nechirvan Barzani told parliament.

“Under Iraq’s current circumstances, neither Turkey nor any other (regional) country can send troops to Iraq. Then the issue wouldn’t be only Kurds, it would be the issue of violating the sovereignty of another state, that’s Iraq.”

Kurds count on the presence of U.S. troops as a bulwark against any regional threats.

But several Kurdish politicians sharply criticised the government of Shia Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki for not reacting strongly enough to Turkish threats.

Turkey has called on Iraqis to change constitutional Article 140, which sets out a roadmap to bring normalcy to the disputed oil-rich city Kirkuk in the north. The city has large numbers of ethnic Arabs, Turkomens and Kurds. The Turkish demand, which seeks more for Turkomens in the city, has sparked angry reactions in Kurdish circles.

“Turkey must give others the rights which it gives to itself,” Ghafour Makhmouri, a Kurdish lawmaker said during the parliament session.

“We have also the right to demand changes in Turkish constitution regarding the rights of millions of Kurds in Turkey, the same way that Turkey assumes the right to ask for the rights of Turkomens in Iraq.”

Kurds hope that once Article 140 is executed, they can vote to bring the province within their autonomous region.

Meanwhile the Turkish government stopped fuel trucks from crossing its border to Iraq this week. It said it will not accept the Kurdistan Regional Government as a legitimate partner for sending fuel to Iraq, and would sign deals only with the Iraqi central government.

But many believe Turkey will not go so far as to invade Iraq. Apart from other things, that would thwart Turkish hopes of joining the European Union, Qaradakhi said.

“Kurds in Iraq can also create problems for Turkey just as much as Turkey can do. They can use the Kurdish card in Turkey to create unrest there, and Turkey knows that that wouldn’t serve Turkish interests.” (END/2007)


Posted on on January 8th, 2007
by Pincas Jawetz (

Saddam Hussein’s execution likely means the end of the foolish secular Arab nationalism movement.
writes Robert D. Kaplan, in The Los Angeles Times, January 7, 2007. – a correspondent for the Atlantic Monthly, and a visiting professor at the U.S. Naval Academy, he is the author of “The Arabists,” among other books.

JUST AS THE demise of Slobodan Milosevic in Yugoslavia closed the lid on national communist parties in Eastern Europe, the demise of Saddam Hussein in Iraq appears likely to do the same for secular Arab nationalism across the Middle East.

And just as communism exited the European stage exposed for what it always truly was — fascism without fascism’s ability to make the trains run on time — secular Arab nationalism will exit the stage revealed for what it always was: a despotic perversion of the western nation-state that lasted as long as it did mainly because of secret-police techniques imported from the former Soviet Union.

Arab nationalism’s roots go back to the revolt against European colonialism in the early decades of the 20th century. But as it developed, it faced a serious problem: Because it was organized around the artificial national borders that these same colonialists had drawn — which generally ignored ethnic and sectarian lines — the result, in too many cases, was multiethnic rivalry and the subjugation of one part of the population by another.

In Iraq, for instance, the national borders created a state in which the majority Shiites were subjugated by the minority Sunnis (as we all now know). In Syria, the majority Sunnis came to be subjugated by the minority Alawites, who constitute a branch of Shiism (and who had been favored in the armed forces by the French). In Lebanon, it was the Shiites who ended up subjugated by both Christians and Sunnis.

No sooner were these independent new states created than the ties of faith and tribe were undermining them. A fragile unity of sorts could only be achieved by recourse to secular nationalism, which, on paper at least, aimed to transcend those bitter rivalries.

Indeed, the more artificial the state, the more extreme the secular ideology had to be to hold it together. To secure unwieldy tribal assemblages, for instance, an austere state socialism was required in Algeria, and a form of “Dear Leader Absolutism” in Libya. Because Syria and Iraq were also artificial constructs, these two states resorted to Baathism — another bastardized form of state socialism.

Contrast all this with places such as Morocco, Tunisia and Egypt, which were age-old civilization clusters whose identities, rather than artificial, harked back to antiquity. It should be no surprise that these places produced more benign forms of secular government.

The two extremes in the Arab world became Tunisia and Iraq. Tunisia, a small country of Sunni Arabs with no internal divisions, which traced its borders back to ancient Carthage, produced Habib Bourguiba, the Arab version of the enlightened Turkish modernizer Kemal Ataturk. Iraq, a Frankenstein monster of a country assembled from warring ethnic and sectarian groups by the British, produced Saddam Hussein, the Arab Stalin.

The defining fact of the Cold War years in the Middle East was competition among these insecure new states for the right to inherit the mantle of the deceased Ottoman Turkish empire, which had held sway over most of their territories for centuries. Because Israel served as a symbolic replacement for European colonialism, each new state tried to outdo the other to prove its anti-Zionist bona fides.

Egypt, the Arab world’s demographic hub, had the advantage, especially as its leader, Gamal Abdel Nassar, psychologically mobilized the Arab masses by standing up to an invasion by Britain, France and Israel in October 1956, leading to a withdrawal of these “colonial” powers from the Suez Canal. Thus began the high-water mark of secular Arabism, which lasted until Nasser’s humiliation by the Israelis in the 1967 war.

The Palestine Liberation Organization emerged in the waning years of Nasserism. It was modeled after the other secular nationalist movements — so much so that its foundational text, the 1938 book “The Arab Awakening,” was written not by a Muslim but by a Greek Orthodox Christian, George Antonius. Another Christian, George Habash, became one of the PLO’s most radical guiding lights.

The defining organizational attribute of secular Arab nationalism was the military emergency regime — witness Egypt, Syria and Iraq — that justified its existence by the continued state of war with Israel. Also working against liberal change in the Middle East was the influence of the Soviet Union. With Soviet military and economic aid for the secular nationalists came the techniques of East Bloc security services.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the two Baathist countries, Syria and Iraq. The result of made-in-Moscow surveillance techniques was the emergence in the early 1970s of a new class of dictator — Hafez Assad in Syria and Saddam Hussein in Iraq — who, unlike their predecessors, were not overthrown by yet another general or colonel after a short time in office.

These new men stayed in power for decades because anyone who opposed them, no matter how furtively, was soon identified and destroyed.

Thus it was that the Nasserites, the Baathists from Syria and Iraq and the austere pseudo-Marxists from Algeria vied with each other for influence. The PLO, as the supreme symbol of the anti-Zionist struggle, was the beneficiary of the competition. But when the Berlin Wall collapsed and aid from the East Bloc began to dry up, Palestine had still not been liberated, even as creaky, authoritarian bureaucracies across the Arab world were decaying.

Beneath the carapace of secularism, a disturbing brew of religious and sectarian tensions had always simmered. Islamism emerged from an upwardly mobile peasantry that had drifted into Arab cities from the countryside. In the countryside, Islam was an integral part of a traditional existence and generally nonpolitical, but in these pseudo-Westernized cities, filled with the worst sorts of temptations, religion required a severity and ideological component in order to keep families together and teenage boys from slipping into crime.

Alas, what really killed secular Arab nationalism — much more so than the dark influence of the Soviet police state or the mobilizing distraction of the Zionist threat — was the combination of a bad form of urbanization and what Middle East expert Michael Hudson in the 1970s labeled the “primordial identifications” of tribe and sect and religion.

As the secularized Arab state withered, these sub-state loyalties reemerged full bore, making even further mockery of the borders of the Arab world — because tribe- and faith-based communities have little use for national borders.

Those who proclaim today that the only real solution to the Arab dilemma is political freedom are correct. The problem is that they are describing a process that could encompass several bloody decades. After all, it took centuries for stable democracy as we know it to evolve in Europe. In this Darwinian shaking-out process, the new forms of political legitimacy may more closely resemble militarized social welfare organizations such as Hezbollah and the Al Mahdi army than the ramshackle contrivances of the European model that we saw in the post-colonial era.

Right before the trap door was opened, Hussein’s executioners chanted “Muqtada, Muqtada, Muqtada,” referring to Shiite militia leader Muqtada Sadr — because what was supposed to have been retribution for crimes against humanity had, despite all of our efforts, turned into another sectarian killing. Such is the abyss that follows secular Arab nationalism.