When on his recent visit to Turkey President Obama called for Turkish entry into the European Union, he put his finger on a strategic and cultural sore spot. The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, speaking for the majority position in Europe, was quick to respond: Turkey may one day enjoy a privileged relationship with the EU, but full membership is out of the question. Turkey is not European – geographically or culturally.
Interpretations of the US stance are numerous and contradictory, but they highlight deep tensions within Europe on the issue. Some believe the US is concerned primarily with securing access to the energy reserves of the Caspian basin; others suspect Washington of using Turkish alignment with American policy (by way of Nato) to exert pressure on its European allies; still others see an attempt to weaken Europe by placing a Turkish economic, demographic and cultural millstone around its neck.
None of these hypotheses is wholly accurate or inaccurate. Nevertheless, they do reveal Europe’s continuing contortions over its identity and its future. The Turkish question rarely figures in the foreground of European debate today, yet its spectre hovers over discussions of “European identity”, “immigration” and the “Muslim question”. [continued…]