Why is the EU freezing out Turkey?

What the foreign papers are saying.
Dec. 13 2002 4:12 PM

That's Cold, Turkey

Turkey was dealt a double blow Thursday. First, European Union leaders refused to consider the country's plea to start membership negotiations in 2003. Then they decided to admit Cyprus, Turkey's longtime rival, even before reunification between the Turkish Cypriots in the north and Greek Cypriots in the south is achieved. As a result, the Turkish Cypriots walked out of U.N.-sponsored talks to broker a reunification deal for the island nation. 

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A piece from the BBC says that "the talks' failure may result in membership only for the internationally recognised, Greek-run part of the island." But an editorial in Kathimerini says the Turkish delegation's foot-dragging is beneficial to both sides since the proposed reunification deal is

not only unfavorable to the Greek Cypriots, it's also of questionable viability. Even if we accepted the proposed confederal solution … it would be foolish to embrace points that are bound to undermine the solution itself and Cyprus's future position within the Union. Amending these would be for the good of both communities.

The Turkish Daily News says that Turkey had hoped to begin negotiationsbefore 2004, when Cyprus will officially become a member and could further delay Turkey's application. Instead, negotiationswill begin in December 2004 at the earliest. The Turkish camp lashed out at the delay for negotiations, charging racism. A column in the Guardian explains the Turks' sense of discrimination: "Barely a voice in Turkey does not want to join, from the hopeful, 'Of course we are Europeans! How could they say no?' to the angrily pessimistic, 'They will never take us into their Christian club, whatever we do. Seventy million Muslims frightens them. Why?' " And Turkish Prime Minister Abdullah Gul called the EU's decision unacceptable. Reuters reports: " 'There is great discrimination here,' a Turkish official quoted Gul as saying. 'There is an act of prejudice against us, and there needs to be great efforts to correct this.' "

But political games might be hurting the Turks far more than religion or their human rights record. An article in the Guardian reports, "[French President Jacques] Chirac is particularly opposed to starting any accession talks with Turkey before mid-2005 at the earliest—fearing that the next European elections could be hijacked by the French far-right."

Meanwhile, it appears that the United States' support for Turkey has backfired. Reuters describes how President Bush lobbied for early negotiations, attempting to shore up support for Turkey. But as this analysis from the BBC indicates, "For the United States, the issue is essentially strategic. As it prepares for a possible war against Iraq, it sees Turkey as an invaluable ally. The Europeans see that as only one issue among many—and resent the heavy pressure President Bush has brought to bear on them."

Rachael Larimore is Slate's managing editor.

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