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UK Leader Panders to Turkey

Media Agree, The Road from Ankara to Brussels Remains Unpaved, Let Alone Gilded

Britain’s new prime minister, David Cameron, has created his first policy rift with France and Germany, the backbone of the European Union, by promising aggressive help for Turkey’s bid for EU membership, which both Paris and Berlin oppose. In a visit to Turkey, during which he openly indulged Turkish sensitivities, Cameron declared, “I want us to pave the road from Ankara to Brussels.”

Cameron unabashedly sought to gain favor with the country’s mildly Islamic government, ostensibly because of Turkey’s loyalty as a NATO ally, its growing political prowess, and, perhaps most of all, its geostrategic potential in the struggle between the West and Islamist extremism. Reporting on the visit, headlined as Cameron Alienates France and Germany over Turkey’s EU Bid, the German broadcaster Deutsche Welle emphasizes a different kind of strategy: “The rumor-mill in Brussels suggests that Caeron’s support may not be purely out of solidarity with Turkey, but a political move aimed at weakening the EU.” That would not be surprising, given Britain’s objective under successive governments to weaken centralized EU control in Brussels by extending the Union to more and more members.

But Cameron feels strongly that Europe has treated Turkey unfairly, and that many Europeans are opposing its entry for the wrong reasons. “He attacked… ‘the prejudiced, those who willfully misunderstand Islam’ and who ‘see no difference between real Islam and the distorted version of the extremists.’”

Daniel Hannan, a conservative columnist at The Telegraph, does not hide his distaste for what he sees as the EU’s hypocrisy in his article, The EU Will Regret Its Dishonest, Humiliating Treatment of Turkey. The combination of Turcophiles, who want Turkey in the EU, and Turcosceptics, who don’t, has led to what Hannan calls “a policy based on deceit.” He claims that the EU “risks creating the very thing it purports to fear: an alienated, snarling Islamic power on its borders” and even goes as far as saying, “the EU’s treatment of Turkey will one day be seen as an epochal error.” Hannan has an interesting take on what is monumental and disastrous. He is disgusted at what he perceives as the EU humiliating Turkey by calling attention to “the status of minorities [and] the history of the 1915 Armenian massacres.” One could argue, however, that not to address these issues would also be an “epochal error.”

An opinion column in The Times of London catches readers’ attention with its headline and vivid imagery. In Frenemy or Enemy, Turkey Must Be in Europe, Antonia Senior argues, “the EU carrot doesn’t look that tasty, but it’s in everyone’s interests for Ankara to take it” – even if the carrot is “raddled and moldy.” She admits that Turkey faces “big, intractable problems,” but believes that no matter where you are on the political spectrum, or what you think about Turkey:

Turkish membership of the EU is… the answer. The EU, like it or loathe it, has proved that binding enemies together with economic chains, free trade and shared prosperity is an incredibly effective way of keeping the peace…. It can only aid European relations with the rest of the Islamic world if we build a close fraternal bond with Turkey… Binding the bastards closer, or embracing your Muslim brothers – it all looks the same from outside the huddle.

Under the headline Cameron Sews Discord, Le Figaro columnist Jean-Jacques Mevel blames Cameron for noisily reviving the “stormy” issue Monday. While accusing Cameron of a “sharp attack” on France and Germany, Mevel admits that Paris and Berlin are doing their best to “torpedo” Turkey’s long-running bid. Germany’s Deutsche Welle takes a more diplomatic stance, stating the UK’s “new prime minister’s views jar slightly with many in Europe,” a clear understatement.

On the other side of the Atlantic, Time magazine overdramatically opens its piece on the issue, Why Turkey Still Gets a Cold Shoulder From the EU, thus:

For over half a century, Turkey has patiently sat in the antechamber to Europe’s grand saloon, waiting for the moment that the doors will swing open and it can finally take its place with the rest of the European Union.

Time is wrong. Most Turks are not sitting idly in the waiting room; and if they were at one time, they got tired of waiting and left. A BusinessWeek article, Cameron Backs the Turks, Rattles the EU, puts it plainly, “EU membership is no longer Turkey’s No. 1 priority.” Bloomberg points out, “a Marshall Fund survey last year found that just 32 percent of Turks [hold] a favorable view of joining the EU.” One of the reasons why Turkey is today attracting so much interest from countries such as Britain and the United States is that Ankara is rapidly becoming a regional powerhouse, regardless of the stalling of its EU entry effort.

In any case, however much Cameron panders to Ankara, it is clear that he is not going to bring Turkey’s accession any closer. For now, his only reward was to hear Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, the Turkish prime minister, respond with a puffed up statement that relations between Britain and Turkey were entering a “golden age” – whatever that means.

Written by Sarah Bellotti