Odd Man Out

From the December 2002 Trumpet Print Edition

Of all the nations clamoring to join the European Union, Turkey is being made to feel the odd man out. On October 9 the European Commission released its report on enlargement, giving the green light to 10 more nations joining in 2004. But the report failed to even specify a date to begin talks on Ankara’s application for EU membership.

To make matters worse, the 10 nations that received a nod include Cyprus—the divided Mediterranean island, with Turkey occupying the north, separated from the Greek-dominated south. This rubs salt into the wound for Turkey, as it had already threatened to annex northern Cyprus if the island nation joins the Eurobloc before a settlement between north and south is reached. (EU member Greece has pressured the Union to grant Cyprus membership or face a veto from Athens on the whole enlargement process.)

Turkey has worked hard to prettify itself for Europe—reforming its constitution as late as August to better fulfill EU requirements. But these efforts did not earn so much as an acknowledgement in the Commission’s report.

This latest snub raises sobering questions about whether Europe is serious about ever accepting Turkey into the Euroclub. Behind all this lies the suspicion that the EU is really a Roman Catholic club that does not want to entertain the thought of any Muslim country joining it.

The main opposition to Turkey’s application for EU membership comes from Germany. With over 3 million Turks resident in Germany, significant social problems have impacted the cohesion of the German community, with neo-Nazi groups targeting Turkish ethnics for persecution. Brought in willingly by Germany to solve labor shortages in boom times, the Turks are now becoming an embarrassment, their presence stimulating a right-wing backlash against the further significant immigration of foreigners.

Yet, the EU must tread a fine line with Turkey. Of all the Muslim nations, it is the most moderate, and what’s more, it has strategic importance in maintaining equilibrium in a volatile area, as the U.S. and Russia seek to guard against the spread of Islamic fundamentalism northward from Iran, Iraq, Syria and beyond. Mindful of Turkey’s strategic location on the Bosporus, the EU has permitted Turkey associate membership of its club since 1963. Formal membership candidature was only recognized in 1999. Turkey signed a Customs Union agreement with the EU in 1996 and maintains membership of the Council of Europe, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and nato.

In view of its strategic location at the crossroads between East and West—with Istanbul, in reality its old capital, Constantinople, the old bastion of the eastern leg of the Holy Roman Empire—the EU will be careful to keep Turkey dangling on a partially baited hook without reeling the nation into full membership of the Euroclub.