Turkey and the EU: Poles apart?

Like most numbers of the Spectator, the festive, XL-sized holiday edition is marred by the presence of Mark Steyn. But don’t let that put you off, there’s some good stuff there as well. And one of the better bits is an essay by Prof. Norman Stone on Turkey (Potential EU Accession of) (reg. req.).

For the most part Stone paints a picture of the old Ottoman Empire as something much less uniformly Islamic than some think. You should already be aware, of course, that what would later (in truncated form) become Turkey was a multicultural, multiethnic, multireligious state, but if you weren’t, Stone gives you a quick background. (By the time it fell apart, the Ottoman Empire had become the ‘Sick Man of Europe’; but for centuries it was a success.) What you might not have known, though, was that the orthodox Christians of the Ottoman realms were only too happy to be part of a nominally Islamic polity. The orthodox patriarchs and the Muslim sultans saw in the latinate West a common foe. Indeed my own suspicion is that the Greeks felt a keener enmity than the Turks. The sultan, understandably, might well have seen the theological differences between orthodoxy and Roman Catholicism as obscure and uninteresting (how many of us in the post-Christian lands of the west are aware of, let alone take much interest in, the distinctions between the theravada and mahayana strains of Buddhism?) To the bishops of the orthodox world, though, the sultan served (whether he cared about this or not) as a bulwark against the centralising domination of their brother-bishop at Rome.

But what set Stone off was a recent article in Die Zeit by Prof. Hans-Ulrich Wehler. The title of Wehler’s article, which formed part of the contra side in a Zeit-sponsored debate on Turkish accession to the EU, has some unfortunate historical echoes: “Das T?rkenproblem“.
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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.
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