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Turning Point for Turkey? Germany Blocks EU Accession Talks


Big news this morning: the FT is reporting that Germany has blocked resumption of Turkish accession talks into the EU. Turkish envoy Egemen Bagis responded angrily: “The EU needs Turkey more than Turkey needs the EU. If we have to, we could tell them ‘Get lost’.” Though some still some hope things can be stitched up, this could really be the end. If so, a major historical turning point has been reached, and Turkey’s long history of moving closer to the West is coming to a close.

The FT article indicates that the proximate cause for Germany’s stance was Prime Minister Erdogan’s crackdown on the Gezi Park protests. But it wasn’t just an icy calculation that prompted Germany to act. As Spiegel shows, emotions have been running hot and high between the two countries all week:

Earlier this week, Merkel expressed her concern over actions by Turkish security forces against protesters in Istanbul and other cities. The chancellor said she had been shocked by police deployments she found to be “too harsh”.

For Turkish Europe Minister Egemen Bagis, such criticism crossed the line. “If Ms. Merkel is looking for domestic political material for her elections, that material should not be Turkey,” Bagis told reporters on Thursday. “If Ms. Merkel takes a closer look, she will see that those who mess about with Turkey do not find an auspicious end.”

A source close to the foreign minister said, “[FM Guido] Westerwelle is disappointed and irritated about the language used, which is anything but European.” On Thursday night, speaking at an event in Hamburg hosted by SPIEGEL, Westerwelle said this is language that shouldn’t be used in relations between nations. He also said the Turkish government “shouldn’t fear” the formation of a civil society. Instead officials should be pleased by the development, “especially if they want to become a part of Europe.”

Westerwelle proceeded to summon the Turkish Ambassador to the Foreign Ministry for a stern talking-to, just as his colleagues in Brussels were digging their heels in against further Turkish accession.

We’ll see how this all plays out, but it doesn’t look good. EU accession prospects were in a way keeping a delicate balance in place in Turkey. The urban secular elites initially accepted Erdogan’s leadership a decade ago because they believed the EU would keep him in check. As David Gardner persuasively argues elsewhere in the FT, “Without the shield of EU club rules, [Erdogan] could not have broken the power of the army, the final arbiter of Turkish politics before Europe entered the picture.”

The secularists believed that Erdogan, despite all their qualms about him, would ultimately be able to deliver Turkey into Europe, an achievement which would validate and set in stone all the values they hold dearest. One way to understand the protests in Turkey is as a delayed realization by these same people that EU accession is going nowhere, and that Turkey is not evolving into the country they hoped it would become.

Chalk another one up for Sam Huntington: a deep civilizational divide has manifested itself in Europe, with the fault line running directly up the Bosphorus. As the old Chinese curse says, may you live in interesting times.

[PM Erdogan photo courtesy Getty Images]

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  • rheddles

    “Turkey is not evolving into the country they hoped it would become.”

    That is the problem, not EUrope or the Germans. They are simply recognizing the reality that Turkey as a whole politically is becoming less western and more islamist. That westernizing middle class that has been doing very well is now caught in the middle. They seem to be the ones doomed to live in interesting times. Where will all those Syrian refugees go?

  • Kavanna

    The Turkish accession to the EU as a full member was doomed by the rise of Erdogan’s party and the Iraq war. Europeans do not want the border of Europe to sit at Syria and Iraq. Now that everyone acknowledges that Turkey is not a western country, full EU membership is kaput.

    • Anstaf

      “The Turkish accession to the EU as a full member was doomed by the rise of Erdogan’s party”

      But what is ironic, as Gardner and Mead point out, is that Erdogan’s rise was greatly facilitated by the very possibility of EU accession.

      In effect, the EU told Turkey: “If you want to join us, you will have to democratize in a way that will allow the rise of Islamists.” The non-Islamists repeatedly explained why this would be a poor idea, but finally relented. And now that their predictions are coming to pass, they find themselves abandoned by the EU.

      If I were the citizen of an EU country, I wouldn’t want Turkey in the EU, but if I were a Turkish non-Islamist, I would quite understandably be furious about this bait-and-switch.

      • Corlyss

        “If you want to join us, you will have to democratize in a way that will allow the rise of Islamists.”

        I thought that was an unintended consequence of the EU’s insistence that Turkey diversify politically and reduce the influence of the military. Many commentators 10 years ago remarked on the fact that the EU didn’t appreciate the reality that the military was THE stabilizing force in Turkish society. The EU’s attitude was particularly cavalier after 9/11 with all the talk about a “crisis of Islam” that could only presage troubled times ahead for Islamic nations.

    • Pete

      Turkey in Europe was always a pipe dream.

  • USNK2

    Turkish Europe Minister Egemen Bagis: “…those who mess about with Turkey do not find an auspicious end.”
    That not only ends Turkey’s EU pretense, but should kill Istanbul2024, unless the IOC is afraid of ‘messing’ with Erdogan’s Turkey.
    Congratulations to the EU for first enabling Erdogan’s neutering of Turkey’s military. Blowback redux?

  • Corlyss

    Deja vu all over again. This is where we were in 2003. I think it was a judicious acknowledgement of Europe’s failure to deal effectively with their unrestricted Muslim immigration and the threat that poses when fiscal discipline prevents the member countries from buying off disaffected Muslim mobs with welfare goodies. The poor uneducated Muslims with fully fledged unapologetic tribal mindsets were always a much greater danger than the EU ever recognized. Indeed, one can argue that the elites still haven’t gotten it.

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