Sunday, May 03, 2009

How Turkey put back membership of the EU

One of the more presumptious statements of President Obama in the past month has been to support Turkey's membership of the EU. An understandable position, but I suspect had George Bush said it, Europe would be seething with "imperialist" and damnation that the US was meddling in EU affairs. Given the USA is not a member of the EU, for it to openly express a view that it should accept a new member is rather rude at best.

However, the bigger issue itself has long been a debate between those who believe such membership would promote the acceptance of secular Turkey's modernisation, a predominantly Muslim country accepted into the European club, vs. those who fear the mass migration of Turks into the rest of the EU, swamping the state welfare, health, education and housing systems, and putting EU boundaries at Syria and Iraq, rather than Turkey as they are today. Besides 6 countries of eastern Europe, plus all of the former USSR (besides the Baltic states) remain out of the EU. A bigger case can be made for the integration of the former Yugoslav republics in the EU than Turkey.

Christopher Hitchens argues in Slate that Turkey itself has put its own case backwards by a long shot. It did this by:
- Opposing the PM of Denmark as a candidate for NATO Secretary General, because he refused to interfere with Danish newspapers publishing the famous "insulting to Islam" cartoons because he had no legal right to do so;
- Opposing the PM of Denmark as a candidate for NATO Secretary General, because he refused to shut down a Kurdish language satellite TV channel, accusing it of being sympathetic to terrorism.

Hitchens argues that these show Turkey is not willing to accept the values of the EU of free speech and tolerance, and with its continued discrimination against Kurds, and denial of the Armenian genocide of 90 years ago, Turkey has a fair way to go yet.

"Put it like this: Obama's "quiet diplomacy" has temporarily conciliated the Turks while perhaps permanently alienating the French and has made it more, rather than less, likely that the American goal of Turkish EU membership will now never be reached. And this is the administration that staked so much on the idea of renewing our credit on the other side of the Atlantic. This evidently can't be done by sweetness alone."

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