Turkey, the EU and a love-hate relationship

June 2, 2009

    French President Nicolas Sarkozy opens a jack-in-the-box  decorated with the EU flag, a boxing glove springs out and  knocks out the teeth of Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan .

     “No more empty promises to Turkey,” a snickering Sarkozy  says.  The cartoon in daily Milliyet darkly panders to what most  Turks feel these days are the European Union’s true intentions  towards Turkey’s EU quest — no matter how many obstacles thrown  at its wheels Turkey surmounts on the long and winding road to  Brussels, it will ultimately be denied entry at the gates of the  promised land .

    A survey last weekend by Bahcesehir University in Istanbul  showed that 80 percent of Turks believe that even if Ankara  meets all political and economic requirements for EU accession,  the EU will still not accept it as a member.

    The study was published ahead of the June 4-7 European  Parliament vote, in which Turkey’s bid to join the EU has become  an election issue in some EU countries to the chagrin of the  Turks, always sensitive about their self-image in the West .

     Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel and Sarkozy of France  have used the campaign trail to reiterate their opposition to  Turkey’s full EU membership, saying Ankara instead should be  given a “privileged partnership”; Sweden’s Foreign Minister Carl  Bildt and his British counterpart David Miliband joined voices  to stress the “strategic interest” of accepting Turkey into the  bloc .

     Election issues can be notoriously short-sighted, but at the  heart of the debate is the very idea of Europe and where it  should draw its borders as it strives to tackle new challenges  such as globalisation, climate change, nuclear proliferation,  energy dependency, the rise of China and other powers or  security .

     Is Turkey — a predominantly Muslim country of 72 million  people with a per capita income of only one-third that of the  27-nation bloc — too poor and too culturally different to fit  into the EU? Do “Little Europeans” from Paris to Berlin, aghast at the  prospect of a EU bordering Iran, Iraq and Syria really want a  fortress and “Christians-only” Europe? Can Europe afford losing Turkey?

     Enlargement-fatigue and a Lisbon Treaty in intensive care  have narrowed politicians’ sights, but the wider question over  the future of Europe will not go away.

     Ankara’s lack of progress in key areas such as clipping the  power of the military and expanding freedom of expression since  accession negotiations began in 2005 has consumed much of the  debate of late. But again, what are four years in a country  which has changed beyond recognition since the 1980s by throwing  open its markets to foreign investors, shattering long-held  taboos and democratically electing former Islamists as president  and prime minister without witnessing a military coup?

     Those who back Ankara’s full membership say Turkey has  enormous benefits for the bloc — it is a secular democracy with  a vibrant market economy, NATO’s second-largest army, a  strategically positioned energy hub between the West and the  East, and a rising regional power with bridges to the Muslim  world .

     Those against it shudder at its sheer size — by 2050  Turkey’s fast growing population will reach 100 million –, are  troubled by its authoritarian ways, awed by its Islamic identity  and horrified at its treatment of minorities and news of honour  killings that feed the view of the “barbarian Turk” .

     Turks insist that joining Europe is the culmination of  founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk’s drive to modernise the country and say Europe without a city like Istanbul will never fully be Europe.

     Brussels says banning Youtube, prosecuting Nobel laureate  writer Orhan Pamuk for “insulting the Turkish nation” and  meddlesome generals are incompatible with European values of  tolerance, freedom and rule of law .

     In any case, if Turkey is to join Europe — there are more  than 80,000 pages of European laws and regulations before that  happens — it would take decades rather than years. By then both  Europe and Turkey will be quite different from what they are  today. Sarkozy and Merkel will be long gone from the stage .

     History of course carries its weight. After all, Ottoman  Turks stormed twice as conquerors into Europe, hammering at the  very gates of Vienna, and European powers occupied large parts  of today’s Turkey after the collapse of the empire .

     The survey by Bahcesehir University also highlighted Turkey’s own ambivalence toward Europe — aspiring to be a part  of it but harbouring dark suspicions towards it as well .

     Three out of four Turks believe the EU is trying to dismember Turkey and 81 percent believe the bloc’s goal is to spread Christianity. However, 57 percent said they wanted full  EU membership for Turkey .

     But again, can Turkey afford to lose Europe?  

17 comments

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The question is rather: Can EU afford to get another state on board? I believe if this pole was to be made in the EU, things would look much worse for Turkey. Turkey is too far away from our culture, much more than any ex eastern bloc country (except fro Russia). Men and women do not have same positions, they are far apart in standing. Religion and the size of the country do not cause any problems, it is just that they fit to us like Cuba to the States

Posted by Joachim Heldt | Report as abusive

Can Turkey afford to lose EU? Well Turks do wanna be a part of EU that’s for sure. besides Turks are historically connected to Europe probaby more than the members.
However, If Anti-Turkish couple; Sarkozy-Merkel keeps doing what they had one recently, then there is always a second option for them: Russia and the Muslim world. they just dont wanna beg for the membership..

Can EU afford to lose Turkey or Can USA afford Turkey to get closer to Russia? I don’t think so.

Posted by Onur | Report as abusive

I am positively amused by some of the assertions made in this article.

The article speaks of “tolerance, freedom and the rule of law” as being European values.

Really ?

Well if that is the case, one is at a loss to understand why so many Europeans, according to this article, oppose Turkish membership of the EU on cultural/religious grounds. If Europeans themselves have ideas of racial superiority that allow them to believe in discrimination/exclusion on narrow cultural parameters, then one wonders, just where does “tolerance” fit into the picture. A Europe where a Dutch politician openly inciting anti Muslim hatred emerges as the most prominent political player in a country rife with racial tensions ? A Europe where racial discrimination and even violence against immigrants, minorities and asylum seeker is rife ? A Europe where mainstream politicians like Angela Merkel enhance their voter base by slandering immigrants who contribute billions in taxes for supposedly not “integrating” into their host societies. A Europe where expansion of the EU is hampered by religious discrimination.

One wonders – is this the community of values the Turks are supposed to be emulating ? There is a realistic limit that Europeans can take pride in their “tolerance” and “rule of law” if their politics is openly discriminatory towards those that they deem culturally different from themselves.

Posted by SAS | Report as abusive

Why does the author forget the Cyprus problem? Turkey’s problems is not only the lower per capita GDP or the deep state. Turkey is currently illegally occupying EU territory. How can a country that occupies EU territory become an EU member?

Since when does Europe has free speech? France & Germany has strict laws restricting freedom of speech related to WW2 period. Discrimination and hatred based on religion, ethnic background is widely spread as well in some countries with a declining population which is growing old. Why would Turkey in it’s right mind want to be part of this? It reminds me the Simpsons episode that Homer keep touching the hot stove and getting burnt, but just can’t give it up. Turkey will serve it’s own interests a lot better in an alliance with Russia and China.

Posted by JakeinLA | Report as abusive

This is an incorrect scenario. By 2010 if the EU is still not interested in Turkey, then Turkey should do an about face and head for the 200+ million Turks which live from Azarbeycan to China… Together they will be more finacially secure than the EU with its ageing population…. If I was running the country, Turkey would be having discussions with Azarbeycan and the rest of the Turkic World!!!

The ‘Old Europe’ component of the EU represented by Germany and France insist on not breaking away from their ‘Crusader Mentality’ of the Medieval Era! The question is not one of whether Turkey should become a member but rather one of whether Turkey has the luxury of time to await further social evolution in these countries. As for human rights no EU country fully respects the rights of the minorities. Racism and chauvenism are abundant across the EU. The ignorance of the average EU citizen is in not knowing that his society is receding as a result of negative population growth. Whether they like it or not the EU will not be able to close the door on the Turks. In the mean time I will continue to watch this tragi-comedy!

Posted by Levo | Report as abusive

I agree with Nick Dorvas, you don’t mention the Cyprus problem in this article. How can a country who wants to join the EU, refuse to recognise an EU member state (Cyprus) and illegally occupy 1/3 of its land. Turkey are just a bunch of hypocrites who want their cake and to eat it also.

Posted by NickinAus | Report as abusive

The author never motioned the main obstacle to Turkey to EU.The issue shouldn’t about geographic or religion. Let see the fact if Cyprus which is just in Lebanon door steps or Malta in African cost considered to be European so dose turkey. If Albanian Muslim or Bosnian and Kosovo to be considered European then I don’t see any debate for religion in here.
The real fact should be turkey is about democracy and principle of human value in which over 30 million Kurds never had in turkey.
The current Turkish constitution is similar to Nazi Germany. The system that turkey has is base on denial and suppression of Kurds.
How could EU offered and risk have such country on board .The country that runs by deep state and military junta and has turned northern Kurdistan (eastern Turkey) to graveyard of millions innocent Kurds. Would EU share blame for such horrific crimes and genocide?

Posted by Diago Medes | Report as abusive

Turkey is a debtor country owing some 160 and 200 billion dollars. Where are they going to get that? From the Russians or the Chinese? Hardly. They are an opportunistic self serving bunch and if they felt that was possible would have already gone that route.

Turkish values are nothing like western values. Modern Turkey was founded upon the Armenian, Assyrian and Pontiff Greek genocide. Their whole history has been re-fabricated to coincide with their denial stance of the facts and have even set up laws, article 301, to prosecute anyone who disagrees. Ask any European country whether the Ottoman occupation years were good years or horrible years. They are still some of the worst violators of human rights to this day and their minorities are still treated like second class citizens. Europe needs the Turks like a hole in the head.

Posted by John | Report as abusive

There should not even be a debate on whether Turkey should be allowed to accede to the EU.

In allowing Turkey to become a candidate country, on meeting the Copenhagen criteria it should be allowed in.

To not do so, would confirm the fears of many outside the EU, that Europe is full of double standards, offering the carrot of EU membership when it suits them, but not sticking to their promises.

No matter what one’s view is on whether it would be beneficial to the EU as a whole for Turkey to enter, this is now not the argument to be had. Such an argument should have been had more fully before accepting Turkey as a candidate country. Now it should be a question of when not if Turkey should enter.

Posted by Emma | Report as abusive

Again, no mention of the atrocities of 1915 from Reuters. We must conclude either that this has become another forgotten genocide, or the information will deliberately not be published. No matter, the Armenians will never forget.

Posted by Nishan Ajamian | Report as abusive

Many of the above comments reflect the truth about the current situation of Turkey and Europe. Like much of the talk of European values like tolerance, the comments on the Kurds are rather amusing.

In Turkey, citizens of Kurdish background have been participating in all sections of public life for decades. Turkey’s first Prime Minister was Kurdish, as were at least two of its Presidents. Likewise, between a fifth and a quarter of all Turkish parliamentarians are of Kurdish blood. Can even a single European country claim the same record – how many blacks or Arabs are there in the French parliament, or Gypsies in the parliament houses of Central European countries. Turkey absorbed millions of refugees from across the former Ottoman empire, most of whom assimilated successfully. By contrast, anti immigrant sentiment is widespread in virtually every single EU state, and the most recent survey states almost a third of Muslims interviewed within the last year complained of discrimination either on the basis of their skin colour, nationality or religious background.

Likewise, Turkey’s invasion of Cyprus in 1974 was provoked by an illegal Greek nationalistic coup that overthrew the democratically elected government of Cyprus, and led to the massacre of thousands of Turkish Cypriots. The Turks found their pleas to the world community falling on deaf ears. The Turkish government and Turkish Cypriot authority SUPPORTED a UN backed peace plan, rejected by the Greek side. The Turkish Cypriots to this day continue to endure an economic embargo that strangulates their economy – where is the justice in that ?

So the Turkish invasion and occupation of Cyprus occurred not in a vacuum, and history did NOT begin in 1974. Europeans need to listen to different points of view and understand that their viewpoints need not always be sacrosant.

Posted by SAS | Report as abusive

According to the CIA Factbook – the Turkish population is 76,805,524 (July 2009) and is already beating out growth estimates – at the means the current 77 million is frighteningly close to 2015 est.

Since the 1940′s Turkey’s population of approx 18 million has more than quadrupled. At this rate – in 30 to 40 years – Turkey on its own could be as much as half the size of the whole of the EU.

Erdogan has asked Turkish women to have a minimum of 3-4 children.

Why should the EU be asked to fund this !!

Turkey a former empire – looking to regain that power once again – via the EU short cut – coupled with a religious cause.

We are looking at – the Islamist (wishes to turn Turkey into Islamic state Mecca and Medina – PM says democracy like a street-car – once it takes you to your destination you get off! Constitution like a rag – with lots of holes) – the Nationalist (who believe in the supremacy of the Turkish race – you heard right and if elected vow to try and restore the Ottoman Empire) – then there are the Kemalists – that Erdogan is obsessed with weakening their elitist grip on power – over the military and the judiciary.

Which we are to welcome into Europe in order to please – Islamic nations – who want to see an – Islamic Europe !!

This is a 1000 year decision – being made on the basis of an oil pipeline – for America and a couple of Middle East launchpad bases – to fight wars for the oil that in – 20 – 30 years we may no longer need.

Posted by Sam1 | Report as abusive

The credibility of EU went down the drain after Cyprus’ accession to EU. The problem is created by the EU itself when a middle eastern island with a divided territory became an EU state against all odds. Same EU is now telling Turkey to be friends with its neighbors and “fix” the Cyprus problem etc etc. Turkey should be the one to reject EU not the other way around. Because Turks do NOT want to see their country to be a part of a racist, definitely NOT secular and hypocritical organization.

Posted by Hayrettin | Report as abusive

SAS, the initial turkish intervention in 1974 may have been justified due to the illegal actions of the Greek Junta. HOWEVER, there is no honor, no fairness no legality in what Turkey has done after the intervention.

More than 200000 Greek Cypriots were forced out of their land. More than 1500 people were missing and more than 5000 civilian Greek Cypriots in atrocities committed by the Turkish army.

Turkey could have as well intervene and restore constitutional order in Cyprus. However, they only chose to illegally occupy the island and suppress their own population.

Ask around SAS. Do you think Turkish Cypriots themselves are happy with the Turkish army in Cyprus? If yes, you are delusional.

What you are saying is that because the illegitimate Greek Junta and several Greek-Cypriots committed crimes against humanity in 1974, Turkey is justified to continue committed crimes against humanity through the year 2010. Hate to break it to you my turkish friend but Greece and Cyprus have moved forward, they respect the human rights of their citizens and they are rightly in the EU and they are no longer war-mongering like Turkey.

When you get to the level of political maturity of Greece or Cyprus then we can have a discussion about the military-lead Turkey entering the group of democratically-run societies. In the meantime you better try to decide who rules this country and whether your women should wear scarfs or not. EU has other more important things to do than trying to integrate a highly unstable and war-mongering country.

Posted by nick dorvas | Report as abusive

Turkey is not a European country, either geographically or culturally. It is simply absurd to pretend that these things don’t matter or that Turkey shares European values. Turkey is a typically primitive Middle Eastern nation where “honour killings” account for half of all murders in the country.

The bigoted attitudes of ordinary Turks have been demonstrated by a recent survey which found that 4 out of 10 Turks would not want to have Jewish neighbours; 3 out of 10 would not want to have Christian neighbours; and half of all Turks thought that non-Christians should be barred from employment in the military, police, political parties or the justice system and almost as many felt that that non-christians should be barred from the health and academic sectors.

It would be an act of madness for Europe to welcome this hostile element into its midst.

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