Jenk, a blonde with grey eyes and lean looks, asks you to guess his nationality. One might think that he is from West Asia or North Africa. Syria, Lebanon, Tunisia...you say. 

"Not Europe?" Jenk asks curiously. You hesitate to say something. Before you reply, he quips: "Turkey."

Jenk's situation embodies that of the country he comes from. Straddling the Bosphorus Strait, Turkey is East and West- Asia and Europe. Muslim in values, secular in spirit; oriental in practice, western in looks, democratic in letter, just nearly- so in spirit- this is the Turkey of today.

Once the seat of the Ottoman empire, modern Turkey, founded in the 1920s by Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, became a European Union candidate country in 1999. Talks for joining the bloc started in 2005. Since then, the process of bringing the country into the EU fold has hit several bumps. As European nations struggle with their economies and the single monetary union is coming into peril, the question of Turkey joining EU is being revisited.

Analysts say a number of factors including the suspect secular credentials of the government are a stumbling block to Ankara's EU ambitions.

Germany conservatives led by Chancellor Angela Merkel's Christian Democratic Union (CDU) have always been sceptical of Turkey's bid. A Forsa poll in 2010 said that 68% of Germans oppose Turkey's EU entry.

Merkel is in favour of awarding the country a "privileged partnership," but opposes full membership. The centre-left Süddeutsche Zeitung once wrote: "Too poor, too big, too Muslim. The fear of Turkey feeds upon these three points. When Merkel rejects Turkey as a full EU member, and instead once again puts forward the idea of a 'privileged partnership' in Ankara, she is playing to these fears back home."

Says Prof Gerd Nonneman, Dean of the Georgetown School of Foreign Service in Qatar: "There is an overhang of old popular European prejudices against 'Oriental' Turkey and Islam. European politicians, especially at a time of resistance to immigration and economic difficulties, often feel they need to take such feelings into account, even if they don't support them."

Nonneman, who is also Associate Editor of the Journal of Arabian Studies, believes that Turkey's size plays a role. "Turkey is very large- including in population- but much poorer than the EU. There is a fear therefore that integration would be problematic and represent an economic burden and a prospect of extensive migration."

Some have even questioned the rationale of Turkey hanging on to the European dream as the Union tries to keep its head up in the fiscal mire it is in. The Islamist-led government in Ankara has often accused Brussels of making it difficult for Turkey to join the EU.

At the beginning of this year, Ankara accused the EU of "biased" and "bigoted" attitudes in an EU assessment of its progress towards membership. Turkish EU Minister Egemen Bagis said the report published last October by the 27-nation bloc was "one sided and baseless."

A creeping resentment of Turkey's membership bid has seeped into European leaders over time. While he was president of France, Centre-Right leader Nicolas Sarkozy believed the country did not belong in the Union.

The assimilation of Turks into German society has remained a controversial one. Though some accuse Berlin of not taking adequate steps at trying to integrate Turks, analysts say, coming as they do from a radically different culture, the Turks in Germany have largely remained aloof.

"Some of the German population is concerned that the integration of people of Turkish origin has not always been successful, even if there are powerful examples of success as well. Popular opinion does not always appreciate the overall picture when a part of their experience (or exposure to media stories about problems) plays to their fears", says Nonneman. This also makes EU nations more guarded when it comes to Turkey's proposed EU membership.

The rows over Cyprus and Kurds has also given Ankara a tough time with EU. Cyprus is split into Turkish Cyprus and Greek Cyprus, a result of a Turkish invasion in the 70s. Ankara does not recognise Cyprus, a full EU member, and only acknowledges the existence of the northern zone.

"Turkey remains a combination of a European-leaning society mainly in the capital and the western cities, and a more traditional society in the central and eastern regions and in rural areas, as well as increasingly in Istanbul. The latter have limited affinity with or ambition to join the EU," adds Nonneman.

So, will Turkey ever become a member of the European bloc? "I very much doubt that it will- at least not for the next 15 to 20 years," signs off Nonneman.


Write a comment ...
Post comment
Cancel