Turkey and Europe’s Awkward Dance

Turkey and the European Union (EU) are engaged in an awkward dance: an ugly cross between a German Polka and the Whirling Dervish. The outcome has been clumsy and messy for both parties involved.

Every country that has reached the discussion stage for joining the EU has been accepted, most within three years. Entering into the 5th year of talks, Turkey is nowhere close. In fact, five years later, Europe is wavering more than ever.

Originally enticed by the prospect of guaranteed access to a burgeoning economy, Europe shelved their reservations and invited Turkey to the dance, eager to partner with Turkey and secure its exports. Turkey is the leading world producer of cement and a prolific manufacturer of goods such as furniture, electronics, and clothes. As The Economist dubbed it, Turkey is Europe’s China.

Yet, since extending the initial invitation, the EU has done everything to keep Turkey at arm’s length. The EU has been quick to offer all sorts of excuses, such as how Turkey must raise its standard of living, how Turkey needs to strengthen its human rights record (especially with the Kurds), and how Turkey cannot continue to show hospitality to tyrants like Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Mamoud Ahmadinejad in Iran. These are new excuses piled atop the long-standing and seemingly insurmountable issues of Cyprus, an apology for the Armenian genocide, not to mention Turkey's role in the Gaza flotilla raid in Israel last summer. The EU even used the economic crisis as a reason for delay.

The excuses are running out and Turkey is becoming annoyed and impatient. How is it, they argue, that their relations with Ahmadinejad are scrutinized, while Lula da Silva, another leader of an emerging market, is free to invite the Iranian President for an official state visit without any backlash. 

The problem is that a need for more time has never been the issue. The real reason – which Turkey is well aware of, and which few European diplomats are brave enough to discuss, let alone admit – is that Turkey is a large Muslim country with the eigth largest Muslim population in the world.

Immigration in Europe is already an explosive issue, with periodic repugnant bouts of nationalism raising heated debate. The general public in France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands are unreservedly against Turkish entry and their leaders are following suit. If Turkey were to gain admission to the EU, millions of goods would flood the market and boost the EU’s overall economy. The one minor complication however, is that millions of Turks would come too, the mere mention of which terrifies many Europeans.

So for now, the dance continues. Unless Turkey and the EU can find a common beat, the EU is setting itself up to fall flat on its face. Desperate for a new trading partner, desperate for regional influence in the East/Middle East, and desperate not to be left behind and ignored, Europe needs Turkey. A failure to admit them would be a colossal mistake with long lasting ramifications. Let's hope they don’t trip over their own feet. 

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons