According to Turkey’s prime minister, H.E. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, “Membership [in the EU] is part of a global vision, it is the most important project of the 21st Century.” As is befitting of such an historic project, EU membership “cannot be sacrificed to small calculations and mundane issues.” Clearly this statement does not apply to Cyprus, an issue over which Turkey’s membership may very well be sacrificed.
Cyprus, that EU island powerhouse, has twice the population of Malta and thirty times the area. Per capita the Cypriots are better off than their Greek and Portugese counterparts, so maybe the Turks on are on to something worth scuttling their EU membership bid over.
That’s bad news for the EU if they do. But just last week, Helsinki, a supporter of Turkey’s EU membership drive, threw in the towel, “saying there was no hope of an agreement during its EU presidency” when Ankara refused to open it ports and airports to Greek Cypriot commerce. Erdogan was quick to remind the vacillating Europeans that they had failed to fulfill their own promise of dropping the embargo against that beacon of political legitimacy, the Turkish Republic of Cyprus, and warned of distancing Turkey from the negotiating table through hasty decisions like slowing negotiations or even calling for an 18 month “time out.”
“Turkey has nothing to lose. If anyone will lose, it will be the EU,” intoned Erdogan ominously, ignoring what outside observes might call hypocrisy given his own country’s repeated attempts to block Cyprus’ admission to other international organizations. On a more positive note, Nobel prize winner (for literature) Orhan Pamuk was quick to chime in and point out the benefits of Turkey’s accession: Europe will become “more tolerant and multicultural” and “Turkish democracy, economy and Turkish people” will profit.
But “the most important project of the 21st Century” can hardly be limited in scope to regional integration. Indeed, the world will benefit from Turkey’s membership: “It is good for the world because it sets an example that there is no clash of civilizations but harmony between civilizations.”
Ok, fair enough, the Occident can certainly stand to be more tolerant and understanding of the Orient, and admitting Turkey to the White Christian Boy’s Club that is the EU could very well make progress towards that goal. But how are things faring in the other direction?
“When asked about Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Turkey last week Pamuk limited his comments to ‘it went well. So let’s skip it.'”
Sage words from a smart man–when the EU foreign ministers meet next Monday to consider Turkey’s bid for membership, they could do worse than give it just about that much thought.