E.U. keeps Turkey out of the club

Stephen Beard Dec 13, 2006

KAI RYSSDAL: European Union heads of government will gather in Brussels tomorrow to make the bad news for Turkey official: The country’s application to join the EU is on the back burner. The EU has decided to downgrade Turkey’s membership negotiations .. This is by no means the end of Turkey’s 40-year-long quest to become an EU member …but it is quite a blow. Stephen Beard reports:

STEPHEN BEARD: In Taksim Square in the heart of Istanbul, Turkey’s taste for European consumer goods is obvious. Traditional Turkish shops have made way for European outlets. Adidas, Puma and Swatch have recently opened large stores there. But among the shoppers, there seems much less enthusiasm now about the EU.

MALE TURKISH SHOPPER: We don’t need Europe. Really we don’t need Europe. We can, we can live by ourself. We don’t need anybody.

FEMALE TURKISH SHOPPER:They, in fact, do not want us. This shows prejudice to our country and to our culture.

Do the Turks have any reason to feel aggrieved? The EU says it’s scaling down the membership talks, mostly because of Cyprus — because Turkey refuses to recognise the Greek part of that divided island. But many European commentaters believe there are other more powerful factors at work.

GIDEON RACKMAN: The European Union — as it’s faced up to the reality that Turkey might actually join the EU at some point — has begun to get cold feet.

Gideon Rackman of the Financial Times says many of the existing member states are nervous about 70 million Muslims joining — and eventually gaining the right to settle anywhere in the EU.

RACKMAN: Muslim immigration and the difficulties of assimilating Muslim minorities into Western Europe has become a huge issue. There’s no argument about that.

The fear is both cultural and economic. The average income per head in Turkey is less than a third that of Western Europe. Fadi Hakura of the Chatham House think tank.

FADI HAKURA: There’s a fear that millions of Turks will flood into the European Union, undermine wages, undermine economic welfare of the average European.

The U.S. is an enthusiastic advocate of Turkey’s EU membership, arguing that it would help calm the Middle East by showing that moderate Islam can be the path towards prosperity and freedom. But on the whole, the Europeans don’t welcome American interference.

RACKMAN: I think it drives them crazy. They absolutely detest it.

Gideon Rackman recalls an encounter between European politicians and Senator John McCain, who was arguing vehemently in favour of Turkey’s EU membership.

RACKMAN: A Frenchman said, “Excuse me, Mr. McCain, I would like you to admit Mexico into the United States because it’s in the strategic interests of France.

In fact, Turkey’s membership could be in Europe’s strategic interest, too. For one thing, the country could become a vital conduit for non-Russian energy, pumping oil and gas into Europe through a network of pipelines from Central Asia and Iran.

But after the latest rebuff, does Turkey still want to join the EU? When the membership talks began last year, euphoric crowds celebrated in the streets of Instanbul. Now it’s a different matter.

Now, it’s not unusual to see anti-EU demonstrations in Turkey. 75 percent of Turks once supported EU membership. Today, that figure is less than 50 percent — and falling.

This is Stephen Beard for Marketplace.

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