Turkey and the EU: a mismatch?

Παρασκευή, 01 Οκτωβρίου 2010 11:04
A collateral effect of the Turkish constitutional referendum has been a surge in the ongoing public debate over Ankara’s accession to the European Union. Turkey has been aspiring to EU membership at least since the ‘80s; and in 1999 Brussels officially granted her the status of “candidate” country. Yet her prospects for entering the EU as a full member are gloomier today than they ever were; with Washington and London almost alone among the major European capitals supporting her candidacy, and with public opinion in practically all EU countries turned against it.
The diverging positions taken by Western governments vis-à-vis Turkish accession reflect diverse geopolitical and strategic concerns, as well as differing views on European integration. The United States and the UK are primarily interested in Turkey’s role as a Western ally in the Greater Middle-East; and they advocate her EU membership as a means of strengthening her ties to the West – a goal they consider particularly pressing, in the light of the vagaries of Turkish foreign policy at the present juncture. While, given their indifference, if not hostility, to “Europeanism”, they presumably would not regret the negative impact of Turkish membership on the process of European integration – although neither, of course, would admit as much.
The two most influential capitals of continental Europe, on the other hand, tend to take the reverse position. With the Soviet threat a distant memory, France and Germany perceive the Turkish geopolitical entanglements as a source of concern rather than as an advantage. And at the same time, despite the steady cooling off of their European fervor, they resist an enlargement, which, because of Turkey’s size, relative poverty and Islamic identity, may put in jeopardy much of what has already been achieved, and most probably will make impossible, any future progress on European unification; and they opt for a “privileged partnership”, of as yet undefined content. (In “Welt Online” of 30 March 2010, Jacques Schuster notes, that, assuming the present demographic trends hold, Turkey, if admitted to the EU, would, by the middle of this century, be by far the most populous member-country – with a population surpassing those of Germany and France combined.)
But the greatest obstacle to the admission of Turkey is the opposition of public opinion in practically all member-states – the UK included. It is a sentiment that governments cannot afford to ignore – especially if Turkish accession is submitted for approval to the electorate; as may well prove to be the case, for example, in France and Austria – whose leaders have already committed themselves to such a course.
There are several reasons for this hostility. The economic crisis is doubtless one of them, as is the enlargement fatigue that for more general reasons is taking hold in the European public. But the most potent motive is fear of an “invasion” of Moslem immigrants from Anatolia, which would boost the already massive Turkish presence in a number of EU countries. Above all in Germany, where the Turkish community already numbers two and a half million; and, even more disquieting from the German point of view, proves particularly resistant to assimilation – officially pursued by the German authorities, but denounced by prime minister Erdogan as “a crime against humanity”.
The Turks are quite conscious of these European misgivings. Reacting to what it perceives as “double standards”, the majority of the Turkish public – as authoritative studies, such as the Transatlantic Trends of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, show – has clearly shifted from supporting to opposing accession. And one can safely assume that officials in Ankara are not unaware of the practically insurmountable obstacles blocking their country’s European path. As Denis Mac Shane, writing in “The Guardian” on the occasion of the British prime minister’s recent visit to Turkey, aptly remarks, “Turkish politicians and diplomatists are not fools. They will welcome, rightly, Cameron following in Blair's footsteps in making the UK the champion of Turkey's EU accession. But they will know the prime minister can deliver little.” (“David Cameron’s Turkophilia faces an uphill struggle”, 27 July 2010)
Official Turkish policy remains, nevertheless, unchanged. Both the government and the opposition continue to declare accession their immovable goal. This for obvious domestic reasons: As the constitutional referendum has shown, Mr Erdogan considers the “democratization” called for by Brussels a useful justification of his carefully calibrated reforms aimed at undermining the power of the “deep state”; whilst the Kemalists are bound by the ideology of the founder of the republic – whose political legacy they claim – to present themselves as firm supporters of “Europeanization”.
At least in their public pronouncements, as their pro-accession zeal has been considerably dampened by the deceitful, in their eyes, way, in which the negotiating process is being used against them by their Islamist adversaries. While even greater ambivalence surrounds the outlook on the European Union, and indeed more generally on the Western world, of the governing party; which at times gives the impression of harboring a “hidden agenda” – of shaping its thinking and intentions by extrapolating from its leader’s well known earlier definition of democracy as a “street-car” from which “you step down when you reach your stop”
It remains, of course, to be seen whether the Islamists in Ankara have boarded the street-cars of democracy and of the West for the long haul; or whether they reckon they are nearing “their stop”. But whatever turn the Turkish politics may take – and it would be overly optimistic to count on the emergence of a full-fledged Western type democratic system any time soon – it is doubtful, for objective geopolitical reasons, that, in the near term at least, Ankara will turn its back to the West and in particular to Europe; or, conversely, that the Western powers will chose to distance themselves from Turkey.
Against this background, it is safe to predict that Turkey will not be joining the EU as a full member in the foreseeable future – if ever; and that, nevertheless, its ongoing negotiations with Brussels will continue – with the Europeans making believe they are seriously considering Turkish accession, and with the Turks making believe they believe them.

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