Our panellists battle it outby Elif Shafak, Charles Emmerson / May 17, 2016 / Leave a comment
Should Turkey join the EU?
There was a moment when it seemed possible, almost natural, that Turkey would join the European Union. In 2005 Turkish support for membership was around 80 per cent. Many felt already European in a land that began its westernisation in the 18th century. How ready we were to be accepted into Europe. We who had grown up reading Honoré de Balzac, Miguel de Cervantes, Johann von Goethe and Charles Dickens, and loved them all.
This golden moment did not last. The government of the Justice and Development Party (AKP) led by Recep Tayyip Erdo˘gan was primarily responsible for failing to fulfil the accession criteria, which include achieving a proper democracy and the rule of law. Equally problematic were populist politicians in Europe who used Turkey as “the Other” for their electoral advantage. It worked. Membership talks stalled. This tragic break-up played into the hands of ultranationalists and Islamists. They said: “Europe doesn’t want us because we are Muslim. Who cares? We don’t want them either!”
The government and media began pumping up neo-Ottoman rhetoric, fuelling xenophobia. Liberals and democrats were pushed aside. Support for membership dropped to 12 per cent. Since then, Turkey’s fragile democracy has been in a downward spiral. The country became increasingly authoritarian. It didn’t all happen because the EU abandoned Turkey. But the rupture made it easier. Today Turkish politics is a mess.
But chaos can generate new beginnings.
Interestingly, Turkey’s crisis in democracy coincides with Europe’s own identity crisis. What better moment to mend what was so badly broken? Closing doors cannot be a solution when we are all deeply interconnected. Extremism in one place breeds extremism elsewhere. It is easy to discard Turkey’s EU membership as a laughable idea when its democracy is a slowly fading light. The real challenge for all of us who believe in spreading fundamental values—such as the rule of law, freedom of speech and women’s rights—is: can we think and act beyond “tribal borders,” before it all sinks into darkness?
Elif Shafak is Turkey’s most-read woman writer and the author of nine novels, including “The Bastard of Istanbul” and “The Architect’s Apprentice”
For years, Turkey and the EU have been locked in a fundamentally dishonest relationship.…