Put Off Again

From the January 2003 Trumpet Print Edition

Poor Turkey, a country which, having been tempted and refused membership repeatedly over nearly 40 years since first indicating interest in EU entry, has again been shunned. How long will Turkey keep on knocking before becoming fed up with empty promises?

Last month’s historic EU summit in Copenhagen was eagerly anticipated as the meeting where, finally, after marathon negotiation sessions, the 10 Mediterranean and Eastern European nations in line to join the EU would get a formal accession date—May 2004. Two other Eastern European countries, Romania and Bulgaria, are set to join in 2007.

Turkey, which applied well before the 10 accession countries, but was booted to the back of the line after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the opening up of Eastern Europe, had great hopes of finally receiving a date during the Copenhagen conference to begin entry talks. However, it received nothing more than unpromising “encouragement” to continue economic and social reforms, with at least two more years to wait before talks even begin. This, despite the fact that its nation of 66 million, mostly Muslim, citizens has already made considerable efforts to reform its human rights record and economy, and is in a better economic position than some of the accession countries.

Turkey has not hidden its disappointment. Turkey’s new prime minister, Abdullah Gul, accused EU leaders of bias and discrimination, and its ambassador to the EU, Oguz Demiralp, said the inaction would send “a bad signal to the Muslim world.” “If membership talks don’t start soon, the EU could be accused of having a double standard, Mr. Demiralp said. The EU entertains applications from predominantly Christian countries that are in no better shape politically or economically than Turkey but gives Turkey little credit for its progress in aligning its national laws with EU standards, he said” (Wall Street Journal, Dec. 11, 2002; emphasis ours).

Prime Minister Gul warned that “an EU failure to set a start date of 2003 would spark a set of countermeasures. ‘We have our own Plan B,’ Gul said. ‘We would not like to offend other countries, but we cannot tolerate such a thing. We will not keep on sitting in the waiting room,’ he said” (Agence France Presse, Dec. 13, 2002).

These comments highlight a hushed but very tangible notion among EU leaders that the Union should draw its border line at the Muslim state, preserving the European conglomerate as an overwhelmingly Roman Catholic Union.