At Turkey’s heart, a major paradox

A letter by Turkish Ambassador to Paris Uluc Ozulker that was published yesterday in the French daily Le Figaro in which he portrayed Greek Orthodox Ecumenical Patriarch Vartholomaios, who is based in Istanbul, as a local religious leader is one more piece of evidence that our eastern neighbor is far from ready to come under the European Union roof. Turkey has a long path to tread before reaching the EU’s political and institutional standards. European political culture is even further away. The letter by the Turkish envoy pales in comparison to the legal suit against acclaimed novelist Orhan Pamuk (after his comments about Turkey’s killing of Armenians and Kurds) and the court decision halting a conference on the Armenian massacre under Ottoman rule. But the political origins of the incidents are common – they are all products of Ankara’s state ideology. Although clouds are gathering over Turkey’s EU ambitions, Ankara continues to provoke people’s democratic sensitivities. Sure, Turkey is not trying to put additional obstacles in its path; its reaction is in keeping with its character – and it is not willing to change mentality and practices. True, the government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan has taken significant steps in introducing EU-minded legal reforms. But their implementation has been sorely lacking. Moreover, Ankara seems more interested in formalities than in real implementation. It all seems to boil down to the big paradox at the heart of the Turkish establishment: Ankara is, on the one hand, in favor of EU membership, but, on the other, it fears that European principles could also unmake Turkey. Caught up in this internal contradiction, Ankara wants membership without having to adapt. Above all, it insists on seeing itself as a fortress state. Its diplomatic maneuvering underscores a desire to join the bloc on its own terms. In short, Turkey wants the rights without the responsibilities, which demonstrates that the candidate country is a complete stranger to European political norms. There is no such thing as Europe a la carte. As time goes by, Turkey will be faced with an inescapable dilemma. It will either launch the process that will transform it for good or the enterprise of full membership will degenerate into a special partnership. Turkey has no place in the European house unless it remakes itself.