Debate: EU – Turkey’s new whipping boy

Ulus Square, in Ankara, Turkey
Ulus Square, in Ankara, Turkey
13 December 2011 – Milliyet (Istanbul)

Buoyed by their country’s political and economic dynamism, more and more Turkish leaders are critical of a European Union that is mired in crisis. However, a Turkish columnist argues that this is not likely to have an impact on Ankara’s desire to join the EU.

Criticising the European Union has become the latest trend in Turkey. High-level politicians, including government ministers and even the President, have fallen in step behind those attacking and mocking the European Union. The remarks made by President Abdullah Gül, who described the EU as “miserable” while on a recent official visit to the United Kingdom [at the end of November 2011] are an apt illustration of this tendency.

And it is in this context that a predisposition to qualify the EU as an “organisation that is about to collapse and fall apart” has emerged. Those who share this view argue that Turkey, “is continuing to go from strength to strength, and no longer needs the EU, which, in any case, is now on the brink”.

Self-confidence has replaced a persecution complex

Should all of this lead us to conclude that the Turkish state’s policy on the EU is changing? If the EU is a “miserable” organisation on the point of collapse, why is Turkey going to such trouble to become a member? Or are this objective and the vision that accompanies it in the process of being abandoned? Why should Turkey, which continues to make rapid progress towards prosperity join such a club? To play out a scene from Les Misérables?

We are very much aware of the reasons that led Abdullah Gül to come out with such remarks. For quite some time now, the extremely negative attitude that the EU has adopted towards Turkish accession, has prompted disappointment in Turkish opinion generally and in particular among the fervent supporters of Europe who no longer hide their disillusion, bitterness and despair.

The serious economic and social shocks that Europe has had to contend with at a time when our country is on the rise both politically and economically have also given rise to this type of sentiment. In this context, the reproaches that have been addressed to Europe are the expression of a self-confidence that to a certain extent has replaced what was a persecution complex.

Europe appears to be “sick” and “unhappy"

But this state of mind also contributes to an excessive sense of superiority that minimises the European Union and saddles it with all kinds of inappropriate epithets, which encourage us to dismiss the European project. At the same time, it offers further ammunition to European opponents of Turkish accession.

Today the EU is certainly undergoing one of the most difficult periods in its history. The financial crisis has not only brought the smaller weaker states to the verge of bankruptcy, but it has also undermined countries that were considered to be richer and more developed. However, although this has triggered some political and social tremors, it is nonetheless not true to say that the EU is on the point of break-up or collapse.

Today Europe appears to be “sick” and “unhappy,” but it still has the resources to pull itself together and to recover the power that it currently lacks. Turkish political leaders are not unaware of this reality and are fully conscious of the philosophy and values, which, for Turkey, are still embodied by the European Union. It follows that Turkish public opinion should be wary of interpreting the reactions of its leaders as a renunciation of the European project. The same applies for European leaders, who have been irritated by these reactions.

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