Keep bashing the EU, what have we to lose?

Keep bashing the EU, what have we to lose?

EU ambassadors to Turkey are generally reluctant to get involved with the Turkish media as soon as they arrive in Ankara. It appears Stefano Manservisi, the new Head of the EU Delegation, is an exception. In his candid interview with Hurriyet Daily News’ Cansu Çamlıbel on Monday, May 5, he called on the Turkish government to stop attacking the EU.

“I know that EU bashing is, in a certain sense, part of the game, and this is the case in many of our member states, too. But what is worrying here is that if the narrative becomes identified with systematic EU bashing, there is a threshold when it becomes very dangerous,” Manservisi said, adding that recent anti-EU remarks from Turkish politicians were “concerning.”

He is right in arguing that “EU bashing” is part of the game in Turkey. It always has been. But the situation is different than the EU bashing that goes on in member states.  To start off with, Turkey is not a member, and the underlying reasons for EU bashing in this country are essentially atavistic in nature.

Turks still believe their country exists today not because of, but in spite of Europe.

This is a throwback to the last days of the Ottoman Empire and the events immediately after World War I. The simple and not completely unjustified notion is that the Republic of Turkey as we know it today would never have emerged if it was up to Europe.

It is, therefore, the easiest thing for Turkish politicians to bash the EU whenever the public feels Turkey is getting what the Americans call a “raw deal” from Europe, and this has been the predominant feeling for years now. Politicians who hit at Europe also know they score valuable points with their constituencies in doing this.

Any European diplomat who has kept his eyes the slightest bit open in this country knows this. Neither does there seem to be any fear from the Turkish perspective that the “dangerous threshold,” which Manservisi is talking about, could be crossed if this situation becomes systematic, because it is already “systematic.”

Take Prime Minister Erdoğan, who recently gave a dressing down to visiting German President Joachim Gauck for criticizing the Turkish government’s anti-democratic policies. Many liberal Turks faulted Erdoğan for this, and praised Gauck for laying the truth on the line.

But generally speaking, it was Erdoğan who was lauded by the public at large “for telling this arrogant European, who should first look at how they are treating Turks in his country, where to get off.”

The repartee from Turkish politicians if the EU were to halt membership talks because of political developments in Turkey is also obvious. “How can you halt something that does not exist?” 

The simple and unfortunate fact today is that there is hardly any faith left in the EU among Turks. Most Turks believe this is a door that will never open, “even if Turkey catches a bird with its mouth,” to quote a Turkish saying, in order to please Europe.

Successive Turkish governments are not blameless in this outcome, of course.

If Ankara had stuck to the spirit and letter of its EU vocation in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, the chances are that it would be in a very different position today. But that was not to be, and eventually the EU dream started going sour for Europeans as well.

Few in Europe appear warm to the idea of a “United States of Europe” run from Brussels today. Few also accept that the Islamic population of Europe may increase further. This point has been made at the highest level of government in key European states, sometimes in diplomatic, sometimes in not so diplomatic terms.

The average Turkish politician believes Turkey should not bank on the EU, even if its membership talks are concluded successfully. Cynical politicians are also aware that strategic and economic reasons will ensure Europe never “ditches Turkey” as some in Europe are calling for. So bash away at the EU, what have we to lose…