EU losing attraction for Turks

EU losing attraction for Turks

There was a time when EU membership appeared a wonderful if remote prospect for Turks. The European Union envisioned then was considered to be a panacea for many ills in the economic as well as political and social domains. At that stage any Turk, me included, who pointed to some of the inner contradictions of the EU that were likely to cause problems in the long run would be looked on as the fox in Aesop’s fable who tried to denigrate what appeared unattainable.

Needless to say there were also Greeks who relished their EU membership and blew raspberries in Turkey’s direction. And yet developments are vindicating the fox this time. It is clear that Greeks are facing a new kind of “katastrofi,” and there is nothing that is killing the average Turk’s appetite for the EU more than the sorry state which that country is in now. 

A union that was supposed to be the instrument of enrichment and betterment for member states has turned into just the opposite. For the average Greek, as well as the man on the street in some other member states that are in the throes of the current economic crisis, the EU is now more of a source of impoverishment, and the cause of serious social turbulence. 

What is most disturbing for Turks, however, is the loss of sovereignty by Greece, which is now a country whose future for the next decade or two (or even three, according to some pessimists) is effectively in the hands of “outsiders.” No wonder that EU flags are being burned in Athens’ Syntagma Square, while Germany, the locomotive of the union, has become an object of national hate because of its hard – and yet inevitable – position on Greece. 

None of this bodes well for a “union” that Turks once idealized. This union today is in deep trouble and that was apparent even in the discussions I had with a group of conservative deputies from Sweden in Ankara last week. The feedback I got from them was similar to the feedback I got some months ago in Helsinki and Berlin, where the bottom line sentiment was “why should I pay for lazy and spendthrift Greeks.”

Needless to say all of this is also fueling ultra right-wing politics in Europe. It is interesting to note in this context that the main obsession of Europe’s far right is shifting from Turkey to more immediate issues closer to home. 

So much so that the Dutch fascist leader Geert Wilders was quoted recently telling Europe to “get stuffed.” The occasion of this typically “sophisticated” remark of his was the criticism of his party by the European Commission for calling on Dutch people, through his party’s web page, to post complaints about Poles and other Eastern Europeans living and working in the Netherlands. 

It appears that Wilders’ racism extends beyond Muslims in general, and Turks in particular, and also encapsulates Eastern Europeans, be they EU members or not. Poland, Romania and Bulgaria responded angrily to Wilders, of course, but he remains unrepentant. 

“Europe can get stuffed. We’ve had more than 32,000 complaints. This website has really hit the mark. We’re looking for facts – so talk about discrimination is fantasy and nonsense” was his response to critics of his parties attempt to collate “misdemeanors” by Poles, Bulgarians and Romanians, and no doubt other Slavs. As an aside here it must be said that Wilders’ position must have been noted with some bitterness by racists in Eastern Europe, of whom there is no shortage. 

Looking at all this, and much more that is going on in Europe, it should be no wonder to anyone that the EU’s attraction is much diminished today for Turks who, by the way, are apparently among the happiest people in the world, ahead of many EU citizens, if we are to believe the findings of the latest Ipsos poll. History does indeed work in mysterious ways…

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