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Tuesday, October 11, 2011

For Europe, a Bridge Too Far to Turkey |

I never blogged about this NYT article by John Vinocur, though I spotted it a little over a week ago. Perhaps because it rather annoyed me. In fact, I am disturbed by the very opening sentence:
There was always, at least for its critics, something preposterous about the idea of Turkey entering the European Union.
It meant, in their eyes, Europe literally extending its frontiers to the borders of Iran, Syria and Iraq, and the E.U. adding to its membership a predominantly Muslim country whose population would soon give it the biggest number of seats in the European Parliament. 
Sure, Vinocur is just conveying what Turkey's critics have been saying, but he doesn't seem very eager to examine these assumptions critically.

And with that skeptical opening, Turkey's "turning away" from the EU becomes quite a natural return to an equilibrium:
Turkey’s new stance gives Europe (with Germany and France opposing full Turkish membership) a respectable alibi and respite from an issue it cannot easily solve. But in the process, the door closes on the goal of integrating Turkey into a European-led geopolitical and economic order.
Here, Vinocur does sound vaguely critical, but then, apparently, the blame can be placed rather easily in one corner:
it is the Turks who are forcing the E.U. to turn away from its candidacy.
Given a) that the idea of Turkish EU membership was apparently always preposterous, b) that this is now prospect is now apparently dead, and c) that it is apparently only Turkey's fault that this is so, Vinocur continues:
“The majority of Europe welcomes the moment, thinking, ‘Great, the Turkey thing is off the table,”’ said a Brussels official whose country backs Turkish entry. He added, “We think Turkey is worth it, and that they’re a real risk if they sail off into the distance.”
 All the same, a new distance has unspoken pluses.
 The apocalyptic notion of Europe being overrun by Turkish Muslims, brandished by right-wing populists like Geert Wilders of the Netherlands — Turkey’s rapidly growing population is approaching 80 million — is deflated as a hysteria-making political argument.
OK, that sounds good. The right-wing populist hysteria is proven wrong. But wait a minute - why? Well, as far as I can tell from the piece, not primarily because they were wrong about their analysis of what would happen if Turkey joined the EU. Their apocalyptic visions won't come true because Turkey won't join the EU! Vinocur is (perhaps unwittingly) pretty much embracing the right-wing argument, or at the very least not challenging it.

Admittedly, I am not really doing Vinocur justice, so you should read the piece for yourselves. It has more going for it that I am letting on and there's good reason to be critical of Erdoğan's administration in many respects. If nothing else, the article is worth reading because it is indicative of the emerging consensus around an increasingly pessimistic view of Turkey's EU membership prospects and around the "going East" narrative.

I also understand that it is hard to write sophisticated and nuanced analyses under the kind of time-pressure that correspondents face (but the same goes for bloggers who have full time jobs so I guess that would excuse my one-sided reading of the piece).

Regardless, I can't help but be annoyed. Some historical perspective on the issue would serve Vinocur well.

For Europe, a Bridge Too Far to Turkey -
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