The Copenhagen Summit

European Press Review: E.U. Snubs Turkey

Given the cold shoulder: Recep Tayyip Erdogan, leader of Turkey's ruling Justice and Development Party (Photo: AFP).

Last week, Istanbul’s independent Hürriyet ran a reproduction of Leonardo Da Vinci’s “Last Supper” and asked whether Turkey would again be turned away from Europe’s Christian table. It was. On Dec.13, delegates from the 15 members of the European Union met in Copenhagen and crushed Turkey's hopes that they would set a date to start negotiating admission to their exclusive club. In stark contrast, seven Eastern European countries—Poland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Slovenia, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, all formerly part of the Soviet Union, as well as Malta and Cyprus—have just received the green light, after they fulfilled Europe's rigid economic and political pre-membership requirements. All of them had submitted their requests to join only 10 years ago.

Turkey, a member of NATO, has waited 40 years to become a part of Europe. Toward that end, it has undertaken crucial domestic reforms—abolishing the death penalty and taking steps to improve its human-rights record. It wasn’t enough to convince the delegates at the Copenhagen summit.

The issue has divided the European press. Former French President Valérie Giscard D'Estaing, who is overseeing the efforts to draft a new European Constitution, fueled the debate when he remarked that Turkey “does not belong in Europe” and its acceptance would spell “the end” of the union. He was echoing the sentiments of many in Europe, who fear that Turkey’s entrance would allow thousands of Turks to pour into the West in search of jobs, driving wages down.

London The Guardian (liberal), Dec. 13: Perhaps the [Turkish] Islamists have really changed. … Yet it seems probable that two very different projects are still under way in Turkey, the one to make the country more Islamic, and the other to make it less so, and that both have now seized on Europe as a means to their ends. The suspicion must be that the Islamists' hearts are not in [the E.U.], and that the secularists' need for both an icon and an ally has led them to overlook the real obstacles to union with what is indeed a Christian club. Totting up improvements in human rights or democratic practice is not the point. Turkey is an unfinished drama in which Europe's role has become even more central than it was before. But whether it will or should end with the country's incorporation into the E.U. is an open question. —Martin Woollacott

Paris L'Express (centrist newsmagazine), Dec. 12: The Turkish problem already divides—and will continue to divide—the French, and undoubtedly also other citizens of Europe. …One thing is certain: Turkey should be assisted economically…. But Turkey is not Europe!… [It] never belonged to Europe…. There is a European culture, but there is no such a thing as European-Turkish culture. We French have heard of Francis Bacon, Shakespeare, Cervantes, Goethe, Mozart, Sibelius, Beethoven, Verdi, Copernicus, Galileo, Kepler, and many others. We are not aware, however, of any personality who represents Turkish civilization. We are ignorant about it, which proves that Turkey belongs to another cultural sphere…. If we admit Turkey, we will give up the historic-geographical criterion that will prevent Georgia, Azerbaidjan, Chechnya, Uzbekistan, but also Lebanon and Israel from claiming their right to become part of Europe tomorrow…. The borders of this kind of “Europe” would stretch from the Pacific to the Indian Ocean! …Is that what we want? The stakes are so considerably high that governments alone cannot decide on those issues. It is essential and vital that the citizens decide by referendum on which kind of Europe they want.
—Claude Allègre

London The Daily Telegraph (conservative), Dec. 14: Why should not Turkey's credentials eventually be accepted? I fear there is only one reason…: Turkey is not a European country. In taking that fact seriously, we don't necessarily fall into cultural bigotry and racism. Turkey has a traditional pull towards both Central Asia and the Middle East. With Turkey in the E.U., our borders will include Iran and Iraq….The creators of the European project were mostly Christian Democrats who had a great historical aim—to reconcile Germany and France, and to end the wars that helped destroy Europe's power in the world.… If you break away from history and apply purely universal criteria for membership—democracy, minority rights, etc.—so that Israel could be admitted now, Egypt in due course, and even, who knows, one day, a liberated Iraq, you will have destroyed the slim possibility of Europe's being a true community. I respect the Turks and admire Islam, but I do not think we should ever break down the walls and admit this particular Trojan horse.
—John Casey

Frankfurt Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (conservative), Dec. 16: Europe is a society of peoples who have forged common values over many centuries and have freely joined together under the perception of these values being under threat. Turkey does not belong in this Europe.

London The Independent (liberal), Dec. 13: With Turkey, we are at least back to the big issues of Muslim inclusion and north-south divisions.…Once you start expanding membership at the rate the E.U. is doing now, most of the objections to accept Turkey—that it is insufficiently advanced economically, that it is half a Middle Eastern, not a European country, that it will upset the balance because of its size—fall away. Indeed, a Mediterranean country of Turkey's size is needed all the more if the balance between north and south, now tilting uncomfortably towards the north-east and Berlin and away from London, Madrid, and even Paris, is to be kept….Anyone who wants to enter a club so sorely in need of fresh blood as the E.U. should have their name put on the waiting list immediately, and not be asked to go to the back of the queue at the tradesman's entrance….You can blame the mistakes over Turkey on the system of rotating presidencies in the European Union, which has left a small inexperienced country such as Denmark in charge of the operation at such a moment…. But the real reason, I fear, lies much deeper. It is that Europe cannot cope with what it has on its plate now, never mind what it will have after enlargement.…[The E.U.] is an institution that has lost its way, that is increasingly divorced from, if not actually an obstacle to, the lives of ordinary citizens.
—Adrian Hamilton

Frankfurt Frankfurter Rundschau (liberal), Dec. 16: The European Union has agreed to consider Turkey's acceptance into the E.U. When and how that will happen depends on Turkey…The country is in need not only of economic reforms. Turkey is far away from fulfilling E.U. requirements for membership, which call for a well-functioning market economy as prerequisite for joining the E.U. Turkey will need to undergo deep and unpopular reforms. The new government can count on its majority in Parliament to push those changes through. Whether it has the courage to do so, however, is an entirely different matter.

Athens Eleftherotypia (liberal), Dec. 15: The newly formed Turkish government was dealt its first diplomatic blow on an issue that it defined as very important. It suffered an additional defeat when Cyprus slipped right out of its hands. Now, Cyprus has become an E.U. member and it has been relieved from Ankara’s three decade-long whims…. Nevertheless, the big question is whether politicians and military officials will have the wisdom and maturity not to let Turkey embrace extreme measures … Athens seems prepared to stand by [Turkish ruling Justice and Development Party leader Recep Tayyip] Erdogan’s side and support his government’s goal to move closer to Europe. [Greek Prime Minister Costas] Simitis rushed to show his support for Erdogan, reminding him that Greece, as the next country to hold the E.U. presidency, could lend a helping hand to Turkey.
—Kyra Adam

Berlin Die Tageszeitung (left-wing), Dec. 13: Only when the Turkish elite establishes a European style of Islam will the country find its place within the E.U…. To point fingers at the Islamic character of a state, however, is not a good enough reason to block its acceptance into the E.U. Islam in itself is Arabic in its roots, but it has always adjusted itself to its surrounding cultures. As such it can be “Europeanized” as well…. This kind of Euro-Islam would embrace secular democracy, individual human rights, a civil society, tolerance, and cultural and religious pluralism…. Turkey, however, is far away from this form of Islam. Its secularization is superficial and has stemmed from “a revolution from the top.” …Turkey has a lot of homework to do before it will fit into Europe. To call Europe a Christian Club, however, cannot change the fact that Turkey has to fulfill certain requirements. A European, rather than an Islamist Turkey, could become part of Europe. Islam does belong to this reformed Turkey—but only with a European-Islamic character.
—Bassam Tibi

Munich Süddeutsche Zeitung (conservative), Dec. 13: The ideological debate whether Turkey—tomorrow, the day after, or maybe never—will adopt Western democratic standards, the rule of law and of a civil society, is only one side of the coin. The other side is that European countries need to ask themselves how many neighbors they want to allow to move in….Turkey has every right to want to be part of the E.U. But the 25 E.U. members have a similar right to refuse. …Stretching Europe's Eastern borders eastward to Kurdistan could cause the Union to fall apart.

Vienna, Der Standard (liberal), Dec. 10: [By allowing Turkey to join the European Union, we would be] taking on too much. Enlargement to the east is a historic task, which will last well into the next decade, and thus will take up all our energies.

Hamburg Die Zeit (liberal weekly), Dec. 12: What is European identity? Was it shaped by the Enlightment, by language, by our beliefs? Does religion unify us? The Catholic Spaniards have as much in common with the Protestant Finns as the Anglo-Saxons have with the Orthodox Greeks. Nevertheless, they all happily gather in Brussels and worship the Western Alliance of European states. Why should the Muslim Turks not be able to take part?…Opening the door for Turkey will also do a lot of good for the strained German-Turkish relationship. A clear E.U. perspective for Ankara will stop the tide of Turks coming to Germany….Do we share the same values? Many Turkish officers have problems with our values, but so does Italian Premier Silvio Berlusconi, who adjusts the rules of law in his country to fit his needs. If the Euro-euphoria of many Turks is any indication, they should become members of the E.U., whereas the British would have to be asked to leave….It would be a historic foolishness to stem this euphoria in the Muslim world. …The E.U. doesn't need to fear a new border with Iraq and Iran. Or does it want to leave world politics solely in the hands of the Americans? …Turkey is an important player in the region and with it in its midst, Europe's foreign policy would gain tremendous weight….There is only one reason to deny E.U. membership to Turkey: its economy. The per-capita income in Turkey is 22 percent below E.U. average….This crisis, however, could mean a new chance for Turkey. And what could be a better incentive for the E.U. than Turkey's knocking on its doors in order to remake itself as well?
—Michael Thurman

Turin, La Stampa (centrist), Dec. 12: Long, long before the Poles, Hungarians, or the Baltic states could imagine that they would one day become part of the E.U., and even before the Spanish, Portuguese, or the Austrians were thinking about it, Turkey had presented its request for admission into what was then called the European Economic Community. For 40 years, fearful of giving offense, yet unable to accept it, Europe neither said “yes” nor “no”... Few express their thoughts with absolute clarity, but one could say that those saying “no” to Turkey's acceptance into the E.U. have a “federal” conception, a homogeneous and compact image of Europe's future. Those saying “yes” to Turkey see Europe as an open space with few rules in common, but much liberty and diversity within. The naysayers believe in completing the process of integration. For the supporters, neither geography nor cultural identity defines borders—because in this era of globalization, borders no longer exist.... Compromises may be worked out over time. But if there really were more realistic and farsighted political minds in Europe, we could hope for an expansion of European boundaries to include Turkey, and to recreate today, based on the founding nations, a new nucleus of nations.

Zurich, Neue Zürcher Zeitung (conservative), Dec. 14: Despite disappointments on the economic front—traceable ultimately to an expensive military campaign against the Kurds—indications are that Turkey is entering a phase of political revitalization. Elections have brought to power a party of moderate Islamists, who seem committed to pressing democratic and human rights reforms. Western politicians in favor of E.U. membership for Turkey see the obvious practical advantages, but that is not necessarily true of public opinion. Some Turks, while fed up with waiting, point out with new self-confidence that reforms are needed anyway. Politics would be easier if both sides discarded their complexes.