Cablegate: Turkey's Eu Candidacy and Dutch Politics

Published: Wed 22 Sep 2004 03:03 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
221547Z Sep 04
E.O. 12958: DECL: 09/09/2014
Classified By: Ambassador Sobel for reasons 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Summary: The recent defection of one member of
parliament from the Liberal (VVD) party over the issue of
Turkish accession to the EU is forcing the Dutch government
to consider potential domestic repercussions of the Turkish
EU debate. So far, PM Balkenende has set the tone of the
discussion by stressing that a "deal is a deal," and the
coalition cabinet has demonstrated admirable discipline in
toeing this line. As several critical dates approach,
however, domestic political debate is expected to heat up
considerably. End Summary.
2. (C) The debate over Turkey is sharpening as a starting
date for accession talks looms and opponents speak out.
Recent think tank and panel reports and a public squabble
between Liberal MP's in the Netherlands are making it harder
for Prime Minister Balkenende's government to continue
framing the issue as a neutral question of logic and fairness
- "if" Turkey fulfills the political Copenhagen criteria,
"then" the EU will fulfill its side of the bargain by opening
negotiations on accession. This strategy has been inherently
strengthened by the Dutch government's efforts to portray
itself as a neutral "honest broker" during the Dutch EU
Domestic Politics in Flux
3. (C) In a major falling out, the VVD (conservative
liberal party and junior partner in the coalition) recently
expelled mid-level MP Geert Wilders for his vociferous
anti-Turkey stance and refusal to toe the party line favoring
Turkey. It may have ended his mainstream career, however,
recent polls suggest he could head a list of parliamentary
candidates today and capture between four and nine seats in
the second chamber. Marnix Krop, Director General for EU
affairs at the MFA, told the DCM recently that Wilders could
springboard to prominence by arousing difficult-to-manage
populist sentiments based on deeply held fears and
prejudices. This would repeat the experience of the late Pim
Fortuyn whose far-right LPF, now in disarray, was founded on
anti-immigrant feelings.
4. (C) A more immediate concern for the Dutch government is
the impact the Wilders' affair could have on the ruling
coalition. Interestingly, Wilder's challenge appears to have
pushed the VVD -- traditionally Euro- and Turkey-skeptics --
to clarify its position on Turkey in favor of the
Government's line. While the cabinet remains united, the
parties themselves are clearly worried about public
anti-Turkish accession sentiments. Following the Wilders'
debacle, VVD Chief Jozias Van Aartsen publicly stated that
the VVD "unanimously" supported the Government's position,
but also left the door open to suggestions that the issue
could be put to a referendum in the (distant) future. A
senior spokesman in the PM's own party confided recently that
a majority of CDA members would vote against Turkish
accession if given the opportunity "to vote their
Opinion Makers Lining Up on Both Sides,
with Public Opinion Still Coalescing
5. (C) The Dutch government has not commented officially on
any of the recently published think pieces and advisory panel
reports that have come down on both sides of the Turkey
question. They await instead the October 6 Commission
report, which will "actually have an impact" on EU decision
6. (C) At the September 8 presentation of the Ahtisaari
Commission report in The Hague, European Ambassadors, senior
diplomats and representatives from academia worried that the
EU politicians and media have failed in their duty to build a
solid public case for Turkey. This is certainly the case in
the Netherlands, where the leadership's "deal is a deal"
argument has only limited resonance outside official circles.
The recent flap over Turkey's adultery law has not helped.
Emboffs' recent informal discussions with Dutch colleagues,
from a range of backgrounds and interests, reveal anger and
frustration over Turkey. Worry based on substantive issues
seems equally matched by anger over being railroaded by
politicians to accept a preset plan, come what may.
Tie-in to the Constitutional Referenda
7. (C) Several observers, including Krop, noted that Dutch
voters could punish politicians by rejecting the Treaty of
Constitution in the tentative March 2005 referendum if they
feel an unpopular decision on Turkey was foisted upon them.
If turnout is low -- as it generally is for EU-related votes
-- then a small, motivated group could influence the result
and use this "success" as a springboard for broader political
ambitions. (This is one of the scenarios some feel Wilders
may be pursuing.) The referendum is the first in Dutch
history and its legal status remains somewhat vague.
Nevertheless, the government would not be able to ignore an
expression of public will on a vital issue
The Commission Report
8. (C) At least until the recent set back of the penal code
reform in Turkey, Dutch officials privately encouraged us to
expect a "positive" EU Commission report on October 6. Dutch
FM Bot told Ambassador Sobel recently that the "impact
statement" would be a important element in determining how
the public approaches Turkish accession talks. The impact
statement would address central worries, such as how the EU
will share structural, agricultural and solidarity benefits
with Turkey, assuming these programs will look the same then
as they do now. Bot noted (based on his discussions with
Commissioner Verheugen) that the impact statement might
include some "surprises" that would help make it easier to
deal with public fears. On the main report itself, in a
meeting on September 10 with EUR/ERA Director Peter Chase and
the DCM, Jaap Werner said the question for the Dutch
government is not just whether Turkey gets a "yes," but what
extra "tools are put around it.... No new tests but what
accompanying measures" to assuage public concerns. He
admitted that the EU is not above "temporization, including
proposing a longer period to negotiate."
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