An unwanted partner

As the European Union prepares to open talks with Turkey – an «unwanted» partner – a sense of discomfort is palpable in all EU states. There are a few exceptions, such as Greece, which strongly backs Turkey’s accession to the community in the hope that it will be freed of the pressures of a Kemalist regime. The fact that the majority of European citizens object to Turkey’s accession to the bloc makes the persistence by European leaders on bringing the Muslim country into the fold totally undemocratic (if we assume that a government should act on the basis of the will of the majority in a representative democracy). The only European leader who has shown any sensitivity to the will of his people is Austrian Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, who was condemned and ostracized by ostensibly «democratic» European leaders when he cooperated with Georg Haider’s far-right party. But Schuessel was eventually vindicated as the far-right dwindled instead of predominating, as forecast by «democratic Europe.» In Luxembourg yesterday, at the summit of EU foreign ministers, Austria made a final attempt to ensure that the negotiating framework between Turkey and the EU includes a provision that foresees a special relationship between Turkey and the EU instead of full membership. It is an uneven contest, and the Austrian government may be obliged to back down but, to its credit, it has boldly backed its stance to the very end. Certain commentators may attribute Schuessel’s stance to domestic pressures, chiefly to anxiety about the outcome of yesterday’s local elections, in which his ruling party suffered significant losses. But there will always be domestic pressures as heads of state are not elected by divine intervention but by the citizens of their nations. However, it should not be forgotten that governments in the region have believed they have a historical mission since the time of the Hapsburg Empire. In the 16th century, the empire saved Europe from the advance of the Ottomans. In the 17th century, it implemented religious counter-reforms, heralding the consolidation of the Catholic Church. In the 18th century, it championed the Enlightenment. In the 19th century, it led an alliance against national revolutionary movements. Today, Austria has undertaken a mission to limit EU ties with Turkey. In the past, Austria pursued its aims by forging alliances with other EU leaders. Today, it may be isolated from the EU’s political leadership, but it expresses the stance of most European citizens, and for this reason it will be less successful than in the past. However, the crucial thing to note is that Austria continues to adapt its traditional goals to the reality of the 21st century. The paradox is that Austria’s proposal of a «privileged partnership» is actually the most beneficial both for Turkey and the EU, as it will be based upon a successful balance between East and West. Europe is not able, nor can it afford, to undertake the absorption of the Muslim population of Turkey, which will naturally face the risk of splintering if it upholds principles for the protection of minority rights. Hopes of financial benefits and fears about negative consequences have effaced the alternative solution of a «privileged partnership» which should actually prevail, and at Turkey’s request, as its governing class will not risk its territorial sovereignty in exchange for a European title.