Friends of Turkey
Sunday, September 13, 2009
There is always this moment during debates on Turkey-EU relations. After exchanging opinions and discussing different scenarios, a Turkish participant takes the floor and sighs heavily.
“I admire your optimism Mr. Lagendijk, but most Europeans do not share your views. You know, we know, in the end the Europeans don’t want us.”
It is the modern version of the famous phrase reflecting the self-image of Turks for centuries: “Turkey has no friends.”
Here is the news: Turkey has friends in Europe and they are very active in promoting Turkey’s membership of the EU. Their names: Martti Ahtisaari, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2008; Michel Rocard, former Prime Minister of France; Anthony Giddens, one of the leading global intellectuals. Plus several former European commissioners and foreign ministers. They call themselves the Independent Commission on Turkey. This week they published a report called “Turkey in Europe: Breaking the vicious circle.” Members of the commission toured several capitals to make Turkey’s case. Acting as ambassadors for Turkey on a voluntary basis.
I would really like to recommend all skeptical Turks to read this report (also in Turkish on www.independentcommissiononturkey.org). It touches on many of the issues that always pop up in reports on Turkey and the EU. But compared to the reports of the European Commission there are important differences.
Being out of office Ahtisaari and his colleagues can be much more outspoken on some of the hot topics. Let me give you some examples. They do not think the secular system in Turkey is in danger. Although they criticize AKP leaders for not being sensitive enough to legitimate anxieties of secularist they clearly state their conviction that secularism is a well-founded pillar of the Republic that only a small minority in Turkey would like to remove.
The European Friends of Turkey strongly support normalization of relations between Turkey and Armenia. At the same time they also speak out clearly against so-called “genocide recognition resolutions” in national parliaments calling them counter-productive. They are very positive on the efforts of Turkish Foreign Minister Ahmet Davatoglu to eliminate all problems with Turkey’s neighbors. Together with further democratic reforms, the report states, “The example of its (Turkey’s) transformation has acted to project the soft power of core EU values eastward.” I can’t remember having read such outspoken support for the idea that Turkey would be a great asset to the EU.
The main difference with the reports coming from the EU institutions though is the harsh criticism in the first chapter of the report on some EU member states and their handling of the accession negotiations. Let me quote a key sentence: “Undermining these talks in advance by substituting alternative arrangements for the goal of membership constitutes a breach of faith with Turkey, stokes up a nationalist backlash in the country and creates the wider impression that the EU has discriminatory double standards when dealing with a Muslim country.”
These are the words of some of Europe’s best-connected and therefore most influential politicians. Yes, it is true, they are no longer in power. But their message got huge media coverage and, believe me, does have an impact on the debate on Turkey in Europe.
In Turkey, media and politicians tend to focus on antagonistic messages from Europe and to disregard the considerable support for Turkey’s EU membership in many European countries. I hope this report will convince Turks that they have powerful friends in Europe too.
* Mr. Joost Lagendijk is a columnist for the daily Radikal and a senior advisor for the Istanbul Policy Center.