Turkey: No more Mr. Nice Guy
2 March 2011
The Turkish prime minister is in Germany parading the self-confidence of his country. Encouraged by a booming economy and increasingly becoming a role model for emerging Arab democracies, Turkey is finding the EU increasingly unnecessary, writes the Frankfurter Rundschau.
Recep Tayyip Erdogan is in his parade-ground costume: Prime Minister of all Turks – even if they do already have second-generation German nationality. This was the Erdogan who addressed 10,000 immigrants of Turkish origin in Dusseldorf. In a similar mass rally in Cologne three years ago, the Premier stirred up controversy when he called "assimilation" a "crime against humanity". The sentence was dropped in verbatim once more, but a touch of clarification was added: "I say ‘Yes’ to integration."
During his tour of Germany, however, the Turkish Prime Minister has shown a selective perception of reality. No one should ignore the rights of minorities, urged Erdogan; yet the Kurds in Turkey will be asking why this does not apply to them. Everyone has the right to live his faith, he postulated; but that right is not extended to Christians in Turkey. Erdogan accused the Western powers of remaining silent over Tunisia, Egypt and Libya, yet rejects sanctions against the Gaddafi regime as harmful to Turkish business interests.
A country with economic punch and political muscle
Erdogan believes he can afford these contradictions. His country’s self-confidence seems to be growing, and this is particularly obvious in Brussels. In wearily drawn-out talks with Ankara, EU diplomats had negotiated an agreement under which Turkey committed to take back illegal immigrants who had crossed Turkish territory to get to the EU. But now, says Ankara, Turkey will neither sign nor enforce the agreement unless the EU waives visa requirements for Turks. For good measure, Turkey is opening up its borders. As Syrians, Jordanians, Moroccans and Algerians can enter Turkey without a visa, hundreds of illegal migrants from these countries are crossing Turkey every day to get to Greece. And the EU is feeling that deliberate pressure.
Turkey no longer bows down to the Europeans; rather, it crows. The new self-confidence of the country is based on its growing economic clout. While Turkey teetered on the brink of bankruptcy just a decade ago, today it’s the 17th largest economy in the world. If the country belonged to the EU, it would be number seven.
The country that has economic punch also has political muscle, and Turkey is beginning to wield it in its backyard. As descendants of the Ottomans, who ruled the region for centuries, the Turks are not entirely welcome in the Arab world. Nonetheless, many Arabs see in today’s Turkey a role model – thanks to its economic rise, but more because the country shows that Islam and democracy are not incompatible, even if Turkish democracy may be imperfect from a Europe perspective.
Rose-tinted European dream has faded
Turkey is increasingly looking to the east, and many are wondering what this means for the country’s views on Europe. Erdogan has not yet grown tired of insisting that EU accession remains a priority. But it’s beginning to sound more like a duty. Since Turkey first knocked on the door of Europe half a century ago the country has changed. Today it no longer stands at the gates as “nothing but a humble supplicant", Erdogan said recently.
Inside the country many Turks are saying farewell to the European idea. While 38 percent still support EU membership, that’s down from 66 percent three years ago. The "rose-tinted European dream, believed in by all,” has faded, the writer Orhan Pamuk believes – perhaps because Turkey is no longer as poor as it once was, and perhaps because it is no longer ruled by an army but by a strong civil society.
The country is increasingly walking its own path. And it doesn’t look as though it leads to the EU.