Europe is giving signals, albeit slowly, that it may be waking up from the “Turkey-the-bridge” dream. Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmaier said that his country’s relations with Turkey have grown so bad the two countries have virtually “no basis” for talks.”Italy should be attending to the mafia, not my son,” said Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Typically, he does not understand the existence of independent judiciary in a European country. He thinks, as in an Arab sheikdom, prosecutors are liable to drop charges on orders from the prime minister.”We know that the democratic standards are clearly not sufficient to justify [Turkey’s] accession [to the European Union].” — Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern.
Nations do not have the luxury, as people often do, of choosing their neighbors. Turkey, under the 14-year rule of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Islamist governments, and neighboring both Europe and the Middle East, was once praised as a “bridge” between Western and Islamic civilizations. Its accession into the European Union (EU) was encouraged by most EU and American leaders. Nearly three decades after its official bid to join the European club, Turkey is not yet European but has become one of Europe’s problems.Europe’s “Turkish problem” is not only about the fact that in a fortnight a bomb attack wrecked a terminal of the country’s biggest airport and a coup attempt killed nearly 250 people; nor is it about who rules the country. It is about the undeniable democratic deficit both in governance and popular culture.
In only the past couple of weeks, Turkey was in the headlines with jaw-dropping news. In Istanbul, a secretary at a daily newspaper was attacked by a group of people who accused her of “wearing revealing clothes and supporting the July 15 failed coup.” She was six months pregnant.Also in Istanbul, a Syrian gay refugee was murdered: he had been beheaded and mutilated. One social worker helping LGBT groups said: “Police are doing nothing because he is Syrian and because he is gay.”Turkey is dangerous not only for gays and refugees. A French tourist was left bloodied and beaten by Turkish nationalists after he refused to hold a Turkish flag. Grisly footage shows the gang, encouraged by Erdogan to patrol the streets on “democracy watch,” telling the man “You will be punched if you don’t hold the flag.” The tourist is alone and does not appear to speak Turkish.
Meanwhile Europe is giving signals, albeit slowly, that it may be waking up from the “Turkey-the-bridge” dream. Germany’s Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmaier said that his country’s relations with Turkey have grown so bad the two countries have virtually “no basis” for talks. He said that Germany has serious concerns about mass arrests carried out by Turkish officials. According to Steinmaier, Turkey and Germany are like “emissaries from two different planets.” Steinmaier is right. He is also not the only European statesman who sees Turkey as alien.Erdogan recently threatened Italy that its bilateral relations with Turkey could deteriorate if Italian prosecutors investigating Erdogan’s son, Bilal, for money laundering, proceeded with their probe. “Italy should be attending to the mafia, not my son,” Erdogan said. Typically, he does not understand the existence of independent judiciary in a European country. He thinks, as in an Arab sheikdom, prosecutors are liable to drop charges on orders from the prime minister.
Italy’s prime minister, Matteo Renzi, answered Erdogan in language Erdogan will probably will not understand: “Italy has an independent legal system and judges answer to the Italian constitution and not the Turkish president.”In unusual European realism, Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said that he would start a discussion among European heads of government to end EU membership talks with Turkey. He rightly called the accession talks “diplomatic fiction.” Kern said: “We know that the democratic standards are clearly not sufficient to justify [Turkey’s] accession.”
Even Turkish Cypriots on the divided island fear that Erdogan’s Islamization campaign may target their tiny statelet. On August 3, about 1,500 people from 80 groups spanning the political spectrum took to the streets in Nicosia to protest against “Turkey’s attempt to mold their secular culture into one that’s more in tune with Islamic norms.”All of that inevitably makes Turkey an alien candidate waiting at Europe’s gates to join the club. According to a European survey, Turkey is the least-wanted potential EU member — even less wanted than Russia. Opposition to Turkish membership ranges from 54% (Norway) to 81% (Germany).
Celal Yaliniz, a little-known Turkish philosopher, likened Turks in the 1950s to “members of a ship’s crew who are running toward the west as their ship travelled east.” The Turks were not alone. Erdogan’s “liberal” Western supporters have been no different.