Turkey is now, finally, negotiating with the European Commission the terms of its possible membership in the European Union. But whether “possible” becomes “eventual” remains very much an open question. Indeed, completing the negotiations is likely to prove as difficult as the decision to start them.
Recall that Turkey made its first application to join in 1959, and that since 1963, the European Economic Community, the forerunner to today’s EU, responded with a delaying tactic: a request for a customs agreement. At the same time, having never had to take “no” for an answer – and after receiving a series of nods and winks that hinted that membership might one day come – Turkey’s expectation of eventual EU integration became increasingly palpable.
But ordinary Europeans have begun looking at maps, and the geography that they see cannot be denied: 95% of Turkey’s territory and 80% of its population is in Asia. As a result, the fierce and lively debate – in Turkey and much more emphatically in the EU – about whether Turkey really belongs to Europe has continued, despite the start of negotiations.
Of course, the question of Turkey’s European identity cannot be answered with geography lessons. At least half of the body of Greek theater and philosophy was produced in Asia Minor. The first Christian evangelization trips of Saint Peter and Saint Paul were to Turkey. Later, Ottoman Turkey was for centuries considered a part of the “concert of Europe,” proving indispensable in defining and securing the strategic balance among the European continent’s Great Powers.