Amberin Zaman of The Economist:
“IT IS no secret that Turkey’s efforts to join the European Union have not been going well. But a bout of Europe-bashing this week by Turkey’s mildly Islamist prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, has exposed just how rotten relations have become since the EU formally began membership talks with Turkey in 2004. All the more so because Mr Erdoğan made his comments in Germany, where he was meant to be shoring up Turkey’s case. If anything his visit has had the opposite effect.
Mr Erdoğan’s German hosts were outraged by a speech he delivered in Dusseldorf on Sunday before a huge crowd of Turkish immigrants. He accused Germany of seeking to forcibly assimilate its estimated 3m-strong Turkish community. “Nobody will be able to tear us away from our culture…our children must learn German, but they must learn Turkish first,” he thundered. Not so, riposted Guido Westerwelle, who said German had to come first.
Mr Erdoğan was taking aim at Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel, who drew Turkey’s ire last year when she declared that multiculturalism in Germany had “utterly failed.” She appeared to be echoing the views of Thilo Sarrazin, a German central banker, who last year argued, in a bestselling book, that German culture was at risk from “parallel” Muslim societies.
What about Turkey’s estimated 14m Kurds, Mr Erdoğan’s hosts may well have asked. Although Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development (AK) party has eased restrictions on the Kurdish language, thousands of Kurdish activists are on trial for advocating greater rights for their people and are barred from speaking Kurdish in court.
Mr Erdoğan’s invective was not reserved for Germany. A day later he told a group of Turkish and German businessmen in Hanover that the idea of NATO intervention in Libya was “absurd”; the alliance had no business meddling in non-member states, he said. Mr Erdoğan suggested that Western interest in Libya and in the Middle East in general was driven by “calculations centred on oil wells” rather than democracy and human rights.
Mr Erdoğan’s fury will have been fed by a visit to Ankara on February 25th by Nicolas Sarkozy. Much like Ms Merkel, France’s president advocates a so-called “privileged partnership” for Turkey with the EU instead of full membership, a view he repeated during last week’s visit—which was restricted to five hours, against Turkish wishes.
Mr Erdoğan declared that the Franco-German stance proves that the EU is a “Christian club.” In an interview with a German television channel he called on the EU to reveal its “true intentions… If you do not want to take Turkey into the European Union then say it clearly and openly,” he huffed.
Turkey has good reasons for being aggrieved. The EU has failed to deliver on promises to ease a trade embargo on Turks in Cyprus mainly because of protests from the Greek Cypriots, who joined the EU in 2004. Turkey believes, probably rightly, that its other detractors, notably France, Austria and Germany, are using Cyprus as an excuse to torpedo Turkish accession.
Membership talks have all but ground to a halt. Of the 35 “chapters” into which the negotiations are divided, as many as 18 have been blocked by the EU as a whole, by Cyprus or by France. Only one chapter, on science, has been concluded. And none has been opened under the current Hungarian presidency. Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief EU negotiator, is said to have asked Mr Erdoğan to scrap his job.
In private, many AK leaders sniff that Turkey can do perfectly well without the EU. Their confidence has been compounded by Turkey’s growing regional clout, especially in the Arab world, where Mr Erdoğan is hailed as a hero thanks to his repeated salvoes against Israel. There is more and more talk of a “Turkish model” for the rebellion-wracked Middle East.
Moreover, Turkey’s economy has weathered the global financial crisis relatively unscathed. Growth this year is predicted to average 5%, not far behind India and China. Opinion polls suggest AK will win a third single-rule term in elections due on June 12th.
What a third term of AK rule bodes for Turkish-EU relations remains unclear. AK leaders, notably the foreign minister, Ahmet Davutoğlu, insist that EU membership remains a strategic goal. But so long as Turkey believes that the EU needs Turkey more than it needs the EU, it is unlikely to make the kind of radical concessions—such as opening its ports to Greek Cypriot vessels—that would unblock the talks.”
In the meantime, Mr Erdoğan’s tirades may win him votes at home, but they will only provide further fodder for Mr Sarkozy and Mrs Merkel.