During a three-day visit to Berlin this week, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan made a confident impression, swaggering through the German capital to open an enormous new Turkish embassy and hold talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The two leaders made the standard statements about deepening relations between their countries, with nods to Germany's large Turkish diaspora of some 3 million. But inevitably, the long-suffering topic of Turkey's accession to the European Union came up, and Erdogan went so far as to set an ultimatum on the issue.
Negotiations have been stalled for years over Turkey's human rights record, its conflict with neighboring Cyprus, an EU member, and doubts from key members Germany and France. But on Tuesday, Erdogan warned that if Turkey isn't admitted by the country's 100th anniversary in 2023, then the EU would lose its chance to have a prosperous and desirable member. He has also set this date as a goal for turning Turkey into an international economic and political power.
Chancellor Angela Merkel addressed the tensions over the issue by ensuring that the EU is an "honest negotiating partner," and that "negotiations will go on regardless of the questions we still need to clarify." The latter statement was a reference to a recent European Commission progress report on Turkey's failures to make democratic reforms and take other steps toward accession to the 27-member bloc since talks began in 2005.
Nevertheless, Merkel's conservatives would prefer that the Muslim country remain in a "privileged partnership" rather than becoming a full member. But with a booming economy and increasing influence in the Middle East, Erdogan feels the country deserves more attention.
In an effort to highlight what Turkey has to offer, the prime minister took the opportunity in Berlin to lecture the EU on its currency crisis, urging officials on Tuesday night to come up with solutions as soon as possible, and suggesting that his demographically young nation with strong economic growth would ease the burden as an EU member.
It's a suggestion that German commentators on Thursday say is "absurd." Europe has far greater worries than Turkey right now, they say, and Turkey seems to have lost interest anyway.
Conservative daily Die Welt writes:
"For a Europe in severe crisis, the question of Turkish accession is of minor importance, particularly after recognizing the painful error of integrating other marginal countries. The EU is a community of values, not an educational institution. Turkey may be experiencing an economic boom, but it is not a democratically secure country. Erdogan himself called 2023, when the Republic of Turkey celebrates it's 100th anniversary, the final deadline. But accession is not a gift."
Conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung writes:
"Turkey is a country in which so-called traditional values -- marriage, family, country -- are still important to many people."
"In Europe, it is primarily liberal and left-wing politicians who are working vigorously for the inclusion of Turkey into the EU. But the country's accession would certainly not make Europe more 'left' or 'liberal.' On the contrary, it would not only be more Islamic but also more conservative. The majority of the Turkish representatives elected to the European Parliament would certainly have no great sympathy for the alternative lifestyles that Europe has committed to protecting."
"But the notion of a European Parliament with Turkish members still requires a lot of imagination, though Erdogan used his appearance in Berlin to make a rhetorical slam against the alleged shortsightedness of the Europeans, who still refuse the great Turks entry to their club. But in his own country, the issue of accession has hardly played a role for some time. Membership in the EU was once a cardinal foreign policy objective of his conservative Justice and Development Party (AKP), but that's over. The current vision is to retain power until 2023. In foreign affairs, Turkey intends to establish itself as a regional power, and is learning about the difficulties associated with this thanks to the war going on at its backdoor in Syria."
The Financial Times Deutschland writes:
"The meeting in Berlin reveals just how much the relationship between Europe and Turkey has changed. A few years ago, the EU and the conservative government in Berlin behaved like the much-desired queen of a school dance. Then, they were only willing to grant the Turks a second-class relationship. The country full of Muslims and poor farmers was supposed to be grateful that they were being offered anything at all. But since the euro crisis began, Europe, the former beauty, now has other concerns, mainly itself."
"That also has to do with the fact that Turkey itself seems to be losing interest. Still, in Berlin Erdogan pushed for talks to begin again -- though he didn't reveal how he plans to make that possible. For years the EU accession talks have been on ice. They will remain thus as long as Turkey makes no progress in improving the separation of powers, judicial review and the protection of the Kurds, which the latest EU progress report criticized."
"Meanwhile his attempt to become an independent power in the Arab region has failed. The skirmish with Syria and the diplomatic conflict with Russia have brought Erdogan to the limits of his policy to remain a good neighbor. In the end he'll have no other choice but to turn back to the political and economic center that is Europe. "
Financial daily Handelsblatt writes:
"Turkey is far from giving up its path to Europe, even if the accession of Turkey doesn't currently take the highest priority for the EU. The self-confidence that Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan showed in Berlin does not actually reflect the situation in which Turkey currently finds itself. The return to Europe is due to developments in the Middle East."
"Turkey oriented itself toward the east and south in an attempt to gain new prominence in the Middle East and the Caucasus. This strategy hasn't worked very quickly, though. The Arab Spring, which Turkey had seen as a welcome opportunity to present itself as an alternative model to the despots in the region, has not brought the expected awakening. The civil war in Syria is also a brutal reminder to Erdogan that his leadership in Ankara still leaves much to be desired. His foreign policy principle of being a 'good neighbor' has failed, also with respect to Israel."
"The return to Europe is one of sober pragmatism. But the Turks need to recognize that they now face a different Europe -- a Europe that must first tackle the debt crisis and poor growth, high youth unemployment and internal conflicts before it can take a serious look at Turkey, which is more confident despite disillusionment in the Middle East. "
Left-leaning daily Berliner Zeitung writes:
"What an absurd appearance! Europe currently has other things to do than think about new member states. Our attention is absorbed by the euro crisis. There is a risk the EU will break up. In this situation, those who call for the inclusion of a large, but also foreign, country like Turkey won't find much empathy. In the current situation, it is difficult for the EU to even consider making a small country like Croatia a member."
"The best arguments in favor of EU membership for Turkey are not the country's strengths, but its weaknesses. Of course Europe would benefit from the economic and demographic dynamics of Turkey. But even more important is what will happen if they remain permanently outside. The fact that the accession negotiations have dragged on for years has already provided us with a taste."
"First, the situation in Turkey itself: The democratic reform process has come to a halt, not only because Erdogan has lost his appetite for debate and renewal during his long years in power, but also because the prospect of EU membership is missing. Turkey's foreign policy developments are also disquieting. Since it has become clear just how tough the EU accession negotiations would be, Turkey has turned away from Europe, the US and Israel towards the Muslim world. This effort toward regional domination has not been particularly successful, but has created new risks."
-- Kristen Allen
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