According to a poll published on October 24, only 32 percent of Turks still want to join the European Union: less than half of those who were in favour of it two years ago. This dramatic drop in enthusiasm for EU membership is due mainly to the undisguised arrogance shown to Turkey in recent months by the EU and its members, notably France. This shabby treatment of an old ally of the West contrasts sharply with the recent speedy admission of new applicants from Eastern Europe to the EU. One of the impressions created by this difference in treatment of applicants is that Turkey is not wanted in the EU precisely because it is a Muslim country. But in failing to disguise their arrogance, EU member-countries may have done the Turks and other Muslims a rare favour – especially if Turkey turns its back on Europe and takes a more active role in the Muslim world.
One of the EU members showing clear disdain of Turkey is France. The French parliament passed a law on October 12 making it a crime to deny that Armenians suffered genocide at the hands of the Ottoman Turks during the first world war. It lays down that anyone who denies that the mass-murder of Armenians between 1915 and 1917 was genocide should face a year in prison and a fine of 30,500 francs. Not surprisingly, Ollie Rehn, the commissioner in charge of Turkey’s EU-membership talks, warned that the law could have “serious consequences” for the EU’s ties with Turkey, adding that it would put at risk efforts by Turkish intellectuals to develop an open debate on the Armenian question.
Ankara, which was not amused by the French move, remarked that it was ironical that France wants to punish those who express a particular opinion of history at a time when the EU is exerting such heavy pressure on Turkey to drop some of its own laws that are regarded as restricting freedom of expression. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, has described the draft bill proposing the law as “a systematic lie-machine”. He also called on France to re-examine its colonial past before condemning other countries’ records. But it was not only Turkish leaders and politicians that objected to the French travesty. Even Armenians in Turkey who have been punished for making the allegation of genocide denounce it.
For example, one Hrant Dink, an Armenian journalist who has often been prosecuted for “insulting Turkishness” by calling on Turkey to “come clean on its part in the genocide”, has said that the new French law is a serious mistake. On the same day as prime minister Erdogan spoke, he said: “I will go to France to protest against this madness and violate the [new] law if I see it is necessary. I will commit the crime to be prosecuted there so that these two irrational mentalities can race to put me in jail.” His remarks were made to the newsagency Reuters and were widely distributed. It is not surprising that non-Armenian Turks who condemn the assertion of genocide without a re-examination of historical records will feel even more strongly against the unnecessary French initiative, which was not the only step taken by EU members to insult Turkey.
One of the most insulting steps taken by the EU to humiliate Turkey, with the possible intention of forcing it to withdraw its application for membership, was to require Ankara to open the ports of Turkish Cyprus to the ships of Greek Cyprus by December as a condition for continuing the EU membership negotiations. It was, in fact, Greek Cyprus that first closed its ports to Turkish Cyprus, which only responded in kind. Now the Greek island, which is independent and a member of the EU (since 2004) has forced the EU to demand the opening of Turkish Cyprus ports to its own ships while it keeps its own ports closed. With the deadline of December 8 so close, the EU is trying to put heavy pressure on Turkey to capitulate. Ankara, however, is holding out, insisting that Greek Cyprus should also end its own trade embargo at the same time.
But further confrontation between the EU and Turkey is expected sometime in November, when a report is due from the EU’s enlargement minister on Ankara’s progress in implementing reforms. If the report censures Turkey’s refusal to open Turkish ports to Greek Cypriot ships and planes, as expected, the EU will probably freeze the membership talks at the EU’s next summit. If that happens, it will be very hard to revive those talks. This explains why Jose Manuel Baroso, the president of the European Commission, was pessimistic. He said that it could be up to two decades before Turkey could become a member. Earlier, the official line had been that the process would take 15 years at the most. An EU diplomat quoted in the Financial Times on October 20 explained the current situation thus: “We’ve had several crises over the Turkey negotiations in the past. But this time, more than in the past, no one is sure whether there will be a deal in the end.”
One thing EU officials are not saying is that Greek Cyprus is to blame for restricting the entry talks to the issue of Turkish ports by using its veto as a member of the EU. At the December summit of EU leaders Cyprus will be certain to stick to its veto, and may even use it to end the talks altogether. Before, Cyprus was not a member and the EU’s major powers acted together to keep Turkey’s candidacy alive. But this time French diplomats are on record as saying that they will not try to keep the talks going if Greek Cyprus should prove uncooperative. In other words, they will not bother to put any pressure on Greek Cyprus not to use its veto when and as it pleases.
It is true that the French president, Jacques Chirac, has apologised to Erdogan for the approval of the bill on the Armenian genocide by one of the two houses of the French parliament, and assured him that he will not sign it into law even if the other chamber approves it. Under French law a bill becomes law only when both chambers approve it and the president signs it. But although French politicians undoubtedly believe that the EU must maintain strong economic and diplomatic relations with Turkey, they also feel that it must not admit it as a full member, as Nicholas Sarkozy, the French interior minister, asserted in an essay published in October. “Of all the countries with which the EU should have preferential relations, foremost is Turkey, our neighbour and friend, sharing many of our security concerns and many of our values,” he wrote. “These are good reasons for strengthening our ties with Turkey, without going so far as offering full membership.”
Sarkozy’s views are not confined to French politicians; with minor variations, they are widely held throughout the rest of the EU’s member-countries. Clearly, Turkey should end its humiliation and withdraw from the entry talks, and indeed NATO itself. Instead it can invite Turkish Cyprus, which it rules, to join it as a member of a union which Muslim countries in the region can be encouraged to join later. Turkey is potentially large and strong enough to organise a Muslim union that might cast the EU into oblivion, or at least into irrelevance.