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Europe without Turkey

AMSTERDAM – Most European citizens (for example, more than 60% in France and Germany) believe that Turkey should not become part of the European Union. There are various reasons for this opposition – some valid, some based on prejudice: Turkey is too big; Turkish migrant workers might swamp other members; Turkey has a shaky human rights record; Turkey oppresses the Kurds; Turkey hasn’t solved its problems with Greece over Cyprus.

But the main reason is surely that Turkey, a mostly Muslim country, governed by a Muslim party, is viewed as too foreign. In the words of former French President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, one of the authors of the EU Constitution, “Turkey is not a European country.”

This is hard to take for members of the secular, Westernized Turkish elite, who have spent decades, if not longer, trying to prove their European bona fides. As one highly educated Turk, working for an international organization, put it to me recently: “We play football with them, sing songs with them on TV, do business with them, improved our human rights, and democratized our politics. We do everything they ask us to do, and still they don’t want us.”

That’s right, said another Turk within earshot, a fluent English speaker who spent much time in London, worked for NGOs promoting human rights, and was jailed in the 1980’s for opposing the military regime: “I hate Europe. I’m not European, and who needs Europe, anyway?”