After Israel's Gaza flotilla raid, is Turkey rejecting Europe?
Israel's Gaza flotilla raid prompted a response in Turkey that rattled some Europeans. Turkey has been rebuffed in its efforts to join the European Union for years, and is now forging a more independent international course.
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
While Europe also condemned the flotilla attack, in which Israeli commandos killed nine Turkish citizens seeking to break the economic blockade of the Gaza Strip, there's wariness here over Turkey's emerging persona under an Islamic-rooted party and murmurs about whether it wants to reassert an old Ottoman Empire sphere of influence.
In the past few years, Ankara has mended ties with its neighbors, including Iran. On June 9, Turkey was one of only two countries (Brazil was the other) on the United Nations Security Council to vote against fresh Iran nuclear sanctions.
Yet part of Turkey's shift is due to the European Union's steady rebuff of the mainly Muslim state. Turkey first applied to join the EU in 1987 and waited 18 years for the process to start, which could drag past 2020. "A majority of Turks say they want to join Europe, but ... also feel it will never happen," says a senior US diplomat.
Membership has been essentially nixed by Germany's Angela Merkel and France's Nicolas Sarkozy, who says Turkey is not part of Europe. "Sarkozy has few deeply rooted beliefs, but this is one of them," says François Heisbourg of the Paris-based Foundation for Strategic Research. "He would only cave under unanimous European pressure, which won't happen."
Advocates of Turkish-EU integration – and there are many here – say it would help mitigate religious extremism, strengthen Turkish civil reform, and give greater strategic depth to Europe. "By showing Turkey our defiance, we reject it into a universe where it could ... become dangerous," argued former French Prime Minister Michel Rocard in the Paris journal ENA recently. "We need on our southeastern flank the hope for a social democracy mixed with rapid growth ... but for that we need Turkey to be admitted to the Union."
Yet Europeans have become more fearful of welcoming Turkey. After the flotilla raid, shouts of "Death to Israel" on Turkish streets looked un-European. The Continent, unsettled by Muslim immigration, is in a populist mood – as seen by politician Geert Wilders's anti-Islam party nearly tripling its seats in recent Dutch elections.