Turkey reconsidering EU as Europe navigates dire straits
“Turkey is in Asia Minor, not in Europe. Turkey's place is not inside the European Union,” French President Nicolas Sarkozy believes.
Turkey started seeking integration with Europe in the 1950s and was made an EU candidate in 1999. But since then, France and Germany have remained opposed, continually stalling negotiations.
“Turkey and [the] European Union have actually stalled their relationship for such a long time now that the Turkish public is a bit tired of it,” says Professor Sukru Sina Gurel, former Turkish Foreign Minister.
The main reason Turks think the Europeans do not want them is immigration.
“First, will they come and steal our jobs like the Polish plumber did? And second will they threaten us culturally?” Ebru Canan-Sokullu from the Betam Research Center explains European fears.
But others see the real fear in Paris and Berlin as being a loss of political power.
“This sort of Franco-German condominium is already under challenge, but with the inclusion of Turkey in the European Union, it would be totally impossible to sustain,” Ilter Turan, Professor of Political Science at the Bilgi University, maintains.
Now, embroiled in economic crisis, the EU is not as strong as it once seemed. Turks are starting to view the delays in joining less with frustration and more with relief.
“Frankly, given the state that the European Union is in, the inability of taking decisions, the euro’s fragile situation, the rising racism and Islamophobia in many countries, it’s becoming less and less attractive,” Suat Kiniklioglu, Turkish Deputy Secretary for External Affairs says.
Turkey is no longer waiting for Europe to change its mind. Instead, many speak of the axis of Turkish interest shifting from West to East. It has pursued a “no problems” policy with its neighbors in recent years. This has yielded impressive results, boosting trade and making Turkey a leader in regional diplomacy.
“If we want to combine our power with others I think we should look at Eurasia,” Professor Gurel believes.
The Turkish Bosphorus Strait has long been seen as a bridge between East and West. But with Turkey increasingly pushed away by Europe and towards the Middle East and Asia, Turks no longer see all their hopes lying westwards.