US President Barack Obama spent much of his trip to Europe rebuilding bridges. In Prague on Sunday for a US-EU summit, he said "in my view, there is no old Europe or new Europe. There is only a united Europe." During a speech at the NATO summit in Strasbourg late last week, Obama reached out the olive branch, saying, "in America, there's a failure to appreciate Europe's leading role in the world."
And at the G-20 summit in London before that, Obama even took responsibility for the global economic meltdown. "It is true … that the crisis began in the US. I take responsibility, even if I wasn't even president at the time."
This week, though, there is only one bridge that is making headlines -- the one mentioned by Obama on Sunday. "Turkey is bound to Europe by more than bridges over the Bosporus," he said. "Centuries of shared history, culture and commerce bring you together … and Turkish membership would broaden and strengthen Europe's foundation once more."
It is a demand that US presidents have been making for years -- and it is one that never fails to generate grumblings of disapproval from those in Europe who are opposed to Turkish EU accession -- namely Germany, France and Cyprus. This week is no different, with a slough of German politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, rushing to disagree with Obama. Sarkozy, too, voiced his disapproval. On Tuesday, German editorialists jump into the fray.
The financial daily Handelsblatt writes:
"In its search for a new identity, Turkey needs plenty of ego stroking. Obama delivers that -- Europe tends not to. That too is a reason that Turkey's EU accession process is delayed. The Turks know full well that, without the economic advantages bestowed by EU membership, they will have a more difficult time solidifying their position as a moderate Muslim democracy. But their pride can take only so much. Critique from Europe has strengthened the feeling held by many in Turkey that they aren't desired as an EU member. Such a rejection hurts countries looking to wield influence."
"Many in Turkey will have thus been gratified by Ankara's having almost blocked the consensus necessary to name a new NATO secretary general. That feeling, though, is misleading, because Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan gambled away political capital…. It was not the way for the Turkish leader to win new friends."
"If Turkey wants to be a reliable partner for Europe and America, then Obama should use his trip not just to recommend Turkish membership in the EU. He should make it clear to Erdogan that Europe needs a modern and secular Turkey -- but not a state in which religion determines its politics. And especially not a state driven by megalomania."
The center-left daily Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:
"In promoting EU membership for Turkey, Obama uses geopolitical arguments -- by saying, for example, that the US and Europe should reach out to Muslims as friends, neighbors and partners. From the point of view of Washington, that makes sense -- but for the European Union, it is hardly helpful. Turkey is trying to become a member, not an ambassador to the Muslim world. Doubt as to whether the Turkish leadership is clear on this point has become even more widespread following Ankara's performance at the NATO summit in Strasbourg and Baden-Baden. When it came to the nomination of the Dane Anders Fogh Rasmussen as the next NATO secretary general, Turkey not only wanted to demonstrate its strength, but also served as a mouthpiece for Muslim anger over the Muhammad caricatures (eds note: first printed in a Danish newspaper in the fall of 2005)."
"At a blow, Turkey managed to hand those skeptical of its EU membership the best possible arguments against allowing accession…. The leadership in Ankara shouldn't forget that it is not geopolitical experts who decide on Turkey's EU membership. Rather, it is domestic politicians."
The center-right Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"The preview delivered by Turkey in the argument over NATO and Rasmussen is likely enough for the Europeans. It shows what it would be like were Turkey, as an EU member, to turn itself into the ambassador of the Muslim world -- whether on issues of freedom of expression (Muhammad caricatures) or when it comes to any other domestic political issue. Those who have a say in Brussels also have a say in Berlin. Can it possibly be that Paris is the only EU capital to have grasped this truth?"
Charles Hawley, 2.45 p.m. CET
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