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.