Opening the Sublime Porte just a crack

The European Commission won’t release its report on the possibility of opening accesion talks with Turkey until 6 October. But after expansion commissioner G?nter Verheugen’s comments yesterday, the report will not be much of a surprise. ‘There are’, said Verheugen, ‘no further barriers‘ to beginning talks.

(All the links to outside sources in this post, incidentally, are to German-language sites. At the moment there’s nothing about this on the FAZ English-language site, but you might check there later in the day if you can’t read German.)

In the comments to my recent post on the NPD’s electoral gains in Brandenburg, Otto suggests that the German CDU step up its resistance to a possible Turkish entry. Apparently the Union is paying attention to Otto, for party chief Angela Merkel was prompt to announce that she will seek allies elsewhere in Europe to keep the Turks draussen vor der T?r. And taking up most of the front page of the print edition of today’s Die Welt — the reliably right-wing sister paper to the Bild-Zeitung, but unlike Bild intended for those who can read words of more than one syllable — are ‘Ten Reasons Why Turkey Should Not Be Allowed to Join’.

Strangely enough my first reaction to this all-out onslaught by the Union was one of compassion and concern. ‘Bloss keine Panik, Leute!’, I wanted to say, giving their well-coiffed heads a reassuring pat. For you see, Turkey is not about to join the EU after all. All that the Commission has done (and indeed, officially it hasn’t even done that yet) is to say it’s all right to start talking with the Turks about the possibility of an eventual accession. In those talks Europe will, among other things, negotiate with the Turks the conditions and timeline for a possible entry. There is no guarantee that Turkey will accept (or fulfil) the EU’s conditions. And accession, if it comes at all, will not be for many years.

Let me make one thing very clear. If it were a matter of deciding today whether Turkey be added as a member state, I would be against it. A lot of things have gone right in Turkey in recent years. And to the surprise of many (including, I’m ashamed to say, myself) a lot of the credit for that has to go to the currently governing, mildly Islamist AK party. (It’s ironic that the CDU is so dead set against Turkey, given that AK are, mutatis mutandis, pretty much on the same wavelength as the parties of European ‘Christian democracy’; they are, if you will, the MDU.)

AK wobbled badly in recent weeks, though, suggesting as part of the current project of reforming the Turkish criminal code that adultery be made illegal. Now, that wasn’t very Western, was it? But the Turkish government quickly reacted to the indignant howls from Europe and scrapped the plan. And with its scrapping fell that last hurdle Verheugen was talking about.

Indeed, so quickly did it fall that I wonder whether it wasn’t all along a hurdle of straw, set up solely to be knocked down. By proposing, then quickly retracting, criminalisation of adultery, Turkey surely gave a creditable impression of a country trying hard to feel its way along to western liberal democracy; they’d make mistakes along the way, sure, but they’d be quick to correct them. The thing is, though, that the adultery provision (offensive as it was) was hardly the worst bit in the proposed new criminal code. That code contains a lot of good stuff (including a stiff criminalisation of torture, even when carried out by agents of the state). But it also contains some depressing things. Under the new code, you’ll still go to prison for advocating a withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Cyprus, or for characterising the, emm, Armenian unpleasantness of the early 20th century as what it was: genocide. But by loudly proposing the fairly minor illiberalism of the adultery thing, and then quickly shelving it with an embarrassed ‘Sorry’, they have (whether this was their intention or not) successfully diverted attention from items that are, frankly, more troubling.

So, as I say, Turkey is not ready to join the EU tomorrow. The Turks have done a lot to bring their land along the road to liberal democracy, but they’re still on the way. And, yes, they are going to have to grow their economy quite a little bit before they can be considered for membership. But then nobody, least of all the Turks, is arguing that Turkey should accede tomorrow. The Turkophobe reaction of the Christian Democrats expresses rejection of the idea that Turkey could ever, in principle, join Europe.

My own conviction is that objection to any Turkish accession ever (as opposed to making accession conditional on achievement of significant progress in a number of areas) reflects, at bottom, irrational sectarian bigotry. But, leaving sectarian questions to one side, I wonder at the strong objections of some Germans to Turkish EU membership.

Oh yes, there were some nasty scenes between European Christians and Muslim Turks a few centuries ago. But that is long in the past. German Turkophobes would do well to reflect that the other EU founder states accepted Germany as partner not centuries but mere years after the Germans had brutalized them in a manner that makes the Ottomans seem mere dilettantes. (Realists will point out, of course, that the creation of the European Communities was as much about prudence as brotherhood: if you don’t want Germans marching across your borders, then bind them in with you so closely that your interests will, to a large extent, become theirs as well. And that strategy has succeeded very well, I think we’d all agree — it is literally impossible to imagine the modern Federal Republic as an expansionist aggressor.) It ill becomes German conservatives today to advocate a permanent wall between Europe and Turkey; should Turkey one day accede, it will be very far from the worst pariah state rehabilitated and brought into the fold.

12 thoughts on “Opening the Sublime Porte just a crack

  1. this is a fine cogent article.

    “But it also contains some depressing things. Under the new code, you?ll still go to prison for advocating a withdrawal of Turkish troops from northern Cyprus, or for characterising the, emm, Armenian unpleasantness of the early 20th century as what it was: genocide.”

    can you cite your sources here? The reason I find this strange is because this year historian V. Dadrian’s book entitled Founding Roles in the Armenian genocide has been published in Turkish and is available in bookstores (albeit in the back rows in some)–it would seem odd if the the new penal code still included this garbage.

  2. My source was a report on a German news programme a couple of nights ago. (Google searches in English and German don’t turn up anything relevant.) I would be very pleased to learn the report was wrong.

    In any event, the reformed criminal code is not yet in effect; if Dadrian’s book is legal or illegal, then it is so under the existing code.

  3. “In any event, the reformed criminal code is not yet in effect; if Dadrian’s book is legal or illegal, then it is so under the existing code.”

    Right, thats why it would be a step backward–the way I remember it I believe that Dadrian’s book was able to be published because of laws that were changed in the last two or so years, to have a revocation come so soon especially under this government in an issue without a socially religious aspect is what I find strange.

    “My source was a report on a German news programme a couple of nights ago. (Google searches in English and German don’t turn up anything relevant.) I would be very pleased to learn the report was wrong.”

    Given the amount of attention this penal code has gotten, the last thing I expect is for it to become more accessible to the public–but hopefully for that reason people will look into it further.

  4. A BBC story on the deal.

    Germany has itself absorbed more people of Turkish origin than anywhere else in the EU – around 2.5 million. Many of them live in the Kreuzberg district of Berlin. But while most Germans appreciate the Turkish presence here, the latest opinion poll suggests a majority against Turkish membership of the EU.

    I quote this largely because Kreuzberg was where I stayed in Berlin, and very nice it was too.

  5. A whole post in reply!

    I would appreciate your view on the substance of my post: whether starting the process of admitting Turkey is still worthwhile even if this means a lot more votes for NPD, Le Pen, Haider and the like.

    The situation is not unlike making an assessment of the value of Roe v. Wade in US politics. It’s not enough to defend R v. W on the grounds that you favour constitutional protections for legal abortion. The bigger question is, has it been worth the cost in US party politics, in particular the merger of the Republicans and a reinvigorated Christian right?

    Similarly, the wisdom of admitting Turkey to the EU cannot be considered only the grounds of whether or not admitting Turkey would be good for Turkey, have economic benefits, etc. The bigger question is, is it worth the cost in European party politics?

  6. Otto,

    well, the post wasn’t entirely in reply to your comment; but that did add an extra element to something I had hoped to write about anyway.

    You raise a fair question. And my answer is, I don’t think it will have quite the cost on European party politics that you fear it will.

    What I hope is that, over the decade or more I expect it to take Turkey to get itself into shape for accession, its progress will be such that nobody, CDU or otherwise, will have any rational objections left. (And, so long as there are significant rational objections remaining, Turkey shouldn’t accede.)

    That is, I expect Turkish accession would remain a bugbear for NPD and their like; but that such objections that remained would not be those the CDU would be willing to use as a cudgel.

    And I don’t think eventual Turkish accession would be quite the plum for NPD that you do. The anti feelings might run a bit stronger than in the case of the recent expansion to the east. The nazis barked about that one, too. Still, although there was some popular opposition to the expansion in the existing member states, the expansion doesn’t seem to have brought any significant rewards for the right-wing xenophobe extremists. The NPD’s showing in Brandenburg the other day is, I think, down to the continuing godawful economy in the new federal states, Hartz IV and other reforms, and the growing feeling among easterners that they are 2d class Germans. In other words, a purely internal dynamic; I doubt the NPD got many new voters because the slawische Untermenschen are now EU members.

    I agree that the EU should not make Turkey a member simply because that would be good for Turkey. I think that, if Turkey can do what it needs to qualify for membership, Turkish accession would be good for the EU.

  7. “…admitting Turkey is still worthwhile even if this means a lot more votes for NPD, Le Pen, Haider and the like.”

    Interestingly enough, Haider supports Turkey’s entry to the EU, on the grounds that it is “logical” and that, if rejected, Turkey might collapse into an “Islamic-fundamentalist” regime. Story (in German) is here. (via Ostracised)

  8. The Union will find its natural limits where states do not aspire to join.

    Well, almost certainly the present members would balk well before that point. That definition might include really hot potatoes like Israel. So the question is not really answered.

    In addition, how many of the proponents are using this to keep more independence?

  9. Re Armenian Genocide – I bought Taner Ak?am’s from Empire to Republic in Istanbul last week. No problem buying it at all. It is in English but was definitely on the front shelf.

    Re the limits of Europe – the EU already includes a part of South America. Vive la France!