Friday, October 06, 2006

The Turkish Challenge

Joschka Fischer

There is an interesting op-ed by former German FM Joschka Fischer in the Daily Star. He argues, rightly, that the EU is making a historic mistake by not thinking more seriously about Turkey and its relation to Europe. He puts some of the blame on the Greek Cypriots, but reserves especially harsh words for the larger continental players:
Some in the EU - mainly in France, Germany, and Austria - seem smugly pleased by the prospect of a clash on [the] issue [of the Ankara protocol, under which Nicosia was to open trade with Turkish Cyprus], believing it will force Turkey to give up its drive for membership. But this attitude is irresponsible. The EU is about to commit a grave strategic error by allowing its report this autumn to be guided by the short-sighted domestic policy considerations of some of its important member states.
What are these "short-sighted domestic policy considerations" exactly? In Germany and Austria, there is considerable and increasing opposition to Turkey joining the EU. That opposition is based mainly on "cultural" grounds - Pope Benedict has articulated some of the fears of many ordinary Germans and Austrians that Turkey simply does not fit into Europe. Similar factors may be at work in France. In addition to this, France (as well as Belgium) have emerged as the most steadfast opponents of Turkey's denial of the Armenian Genocide on the Continent.

Whatever you think of Turkey's qualifications for joining the EU, I cannot but agree with Fischer that the current course steered by its member states is disastrous. The European powers seem far too content to marginalize the Turks without citing honest reasons or giving them some indication that they would actually be willing to admit Ankara if it did comply with EU stipulations. There are still many things that Turkey must do in order to pass some basic tests - the recent prosecutions of writers Hrant Dink and Elif Shafak for "insulting Turkishness" (see NYT) are evidence that Turkey still has a long way to go. But instead of engaging Ankara, the Europeans seem to be pushing the Turks eastward. As is, anti-Western sentiment in Turkey has been building up for the past decade. If the Euros think that Turkey is an American problem, they are in for a big surprise. Turkey is on their doorstep and likely to remain the important power in the Eastern Mediterranean. I can't see the Moscow-Ankara-Teheran axis presaged by Fischer as a positive development for the EU:
And what perspective would Turkey have outside the EU? Pan-Turkish illusions? A return to the Orient and to Islam? None of these will work. But Turkey will not sit idly on Europe's doorstep. Europe's attitude is pushing Turkey toward forging alliances with its traditional regional rivals: Russia and Iran. These three powers, each of great importance to Europe, have been rivals for many centuries. So an alliance between them would seem a near impossibility. Yet Europe seems bent on achieving the impossible, to the Continent's detriment.
To me, this constellation is looking increasingly plausible.

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