Moving Away From ‘Privileged Partnership’?


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It is ironic that foreign affairs analysts (and international investors) seem to be more sanguine about Turkey’s political and economic outlook heading into 2010 than they have been in years, but at the same time Turkey’s prospects of joining the European Union remain mired in a steady decline.
It is refreshing then to see Hugh Pope, one of the West’s most astute observers of Turkish political developments, argue in Today’s Zaman that the German-French cold-shoulder that has stifled Turkey’s accession process for the last several years may be warming, if only slightly, to Turkey.
Here is part of what Pope says

On his return from an ice-breaking trip to France in October, Turkish President Abdullah Gül was happy to state that the French leadership did not mention “privileged partnership.” In fact, although President Nicolas Sarkozy may not have changed his own mind, his politicization of Turkey’s EU membership during his election victory in 2007 has unexpectedly mobilized Turkey’s supporters in France. Left-wing newspapers now debate the merits of the country, whereas a decade ago they mainly picked apart Turkey’s then poor human rights record….
The change is more subtle in Germany, where the idea of “privileged partnership” originated and was a key part of Christian Democrat leaders’ rhetoric during the last election in 2004. After the 2009 elections, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU)-Christian Social Union of Bavaria (CSU)-Free Democratic Party (FDP) coalition agreement is still stiff with suspicion of Turkey, underlining that the negotiating process should be open-ended, include no date or automatic or guaranteed right of entry and specify strict obligations to meet EU criteria.
But it makes no mention of “privileged partnership,” saying that only if membership negotiations fail for any future reason, the policy should be to bind Turkey “as closely as possible to European structures to develop her privileged relationship with the EU.” Beyond the linguistic step back from confrontation, this official postponement of any decision is an important change that keeps Turkey’s road open and no longer betrays decades of EU promises of possible membership.
The efforts of key EU states like Germany and France to achieve a more respectful relationship with Turkey gives some hope that the bleak “down” cycle of EU-Turkey hostility between 2005-2008 is entering a new “up” cycle — just as the EU-Turkey near-death experiences of 1987 and 1997 were eventually overcome. With the Lisbon Treaty in place and fears of economic meltdown receding, the EU is regaining self-confidence.

You can read Pope’s entire article here. Time will tell whether Pope’s guarded optimism is deserved.
Clearly there are a number of issues that will determine whether Turkey joins the European Union this decade – not least of which is Turkey’s own domestic political reform program – but it is refreshing to see at least some positive sign, however small, that France and Germany may be reconsidering their counterproductive Turkey policies.
— Ben Katcher


15 comments on “Moving Away From ‘Privileged Partnership’?

  1. Charlemagne says:

    From the point of view of today, the term barbaric
    looses its meaning and it becomes an anachronism.
    In short Wigwag is always trying to select a
    negative sample from the history, use that sample
    to prove his/her points, and trying to find a
    correalation between the history and the current
    day of Turkey. It is because wigwag is very
    worried about USA’s Greater Middle East Policiy
    that aims to make many arab states come together
    against Russia and China. This kind of arab unity
    is actually posing a threat to Israel at least in
    her perceptions. Thus Israel is feeling alone one
    more time with the current US policy over MidEast
    like she felt the same way in 1957 under the
    Eisenhover doctrine. Wigwag is demonstrating a
    passive agressive behaviour in his- her
    writings.This is understandable. But being
    obsessivlely negative about Turkey is not
    understandable. No its not understandable. Its
    just ridiclious.


  2. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Anyway, I agree with him that WigWag’s comments are really brilliant and interesting…”
    Occassionally; Oh my. I’d love to see the ISPs on this little love fest.


  3. Marc Larivière says:

    I am surprised that D.Phipps may think most French or german students probably never learned the historical facts mentioned by WigWag, or if they did, probably (why probably,I wonder…)kept them in limbo… Why should we be ignorant ?
    It’s as if I suspected the average American students not to be aware of all the details of their own History…
    Anyway, I agree with him that WigWag’s comments are really brilliant and interesting…


  4. WigWag says:

    D. Phipps, thanks for your kind words.
    The point of my comment was not to suggest that the Ottoman Turks were alone in promoting forced conversions or oppressing subjects who refused to convert. Religious oppression was ubiquitous in Europe for centuries. But I do think that if you look at the totality of how the Ottomans ruled their European possessions you will see that the Ottoman Empire was far more violent, corrupt and destructive than either the British Empire or the Hapsburg Empire. As I said in my comment, a quick perusal of the status of the nations once ruled by the Ottoman Sultans and Caliphs shows that they are far worse off than the nations once ruled by the British Crown or the Austria-Hungarian Emperors.
    I do think you make some excellent points. The Ottoman Empire accepted tens of thousands of Jews expelled from Spain and Portugal. It should also be remembered that a significant portion of Spain’s Muslim population was also expelled at the same time as the Jews and that the Inquisition was aimed as keenly at Muslim conversos as at Jewish conversos.
    I also think that internecine religious warfare tends to be even more wretched and repugnant than religious warfare between different faiths. Violence between Shia and Sunni has been a continuous feature of Islamic life for hundreds of years. Sunni attacks against Shia religious shrines in Iraq provide contemporary evidence for this. When it comes to bloodthirsty behavior there’s not much that rivals the spectacle of mutual attacks by Roman Catholics and Protestants or even Roman Catholics and Orthodox Christians.
    It has always amazed me how much recrimination and violence there has been between Serbs and Croats over the years. Both Serbs and Croats are “South Slavs,” they share a common language and to some extent a common history. For centuries members of both communities lived in integrated neighborhoods and the distance between Belgrade and Zagreb is not very great. Nevertheless, because the Croats are Roman Catholic and the Serbs are Orthodox the antagonism between Serbs and Croats is palpable.
    I find this even more remarkable in light of how similar the liturgy used by these sister faiths is. As far as I can tell, religiously speaking, they agree on far more than they disagree on; the two major differences being whether to use the Gregorian or Justinian calendars (now partially resolved) and the filoque. Why do Serbs and Croats disagree so violently? Because the Orthodox version of the Nicene Creed reads, “We believe in the Holy Spirit…who proceeds from the father” and the Roman Catholic (and most Protestant) versions read “We believe in the Holy Spirit …who proceeds from the Father and the Son.” It’s hard to believe how much enmity has emanated from this small difference. But perhaps what seems like a small difference to me seems like an enormous chasm to devout Christians.
    If anything, relations between Roman Catholics and Protestants have been even worse and the Hapsburgs were knee deep in promoting the hatred. The tactics that Emperor Ferdinand used to convert his mostly Protestant central European dominions (e.g. Bohemia) to Roman Catholicism were truly hideous. Thousands died. Austria has a brutal history. I think it was Christopher Hitchens who quipped that outside of arts, Austria’s main contribution to the international community has been to convince a gullible world that Beethoven was Austrian and Hitler was German.
    Just a few centuries before this the French and the English were inventing new methods for torturing and murdering those who practiced Christianity in a manner they found unpalatable.
    On St. Bartholomew’s Day (August 24th) in 1572 a group of assassins led by the Catholic Duke of Guisse murdered Admiral Coligny the head of the Protestant (Huguenot) community in Paris. During the course of that day, Guisse and his henchmen rounded up and executed the entire Huguenot leadership. While they were doing that, a bloodthirsty mob of Parisian Catholics set out to liquidate their Protestant neighbors. During the last week in August they slaughtered three thousand French Protestants. To facilitate their mission, the mob locked the city gates and it is said that thousands of Protestant corpses floated down the Seine. With the encouragement of the French Catholic monarch, Charles, IX, the carnage spread to several other French cities. During the first two weeks in September another eleven thousand Huguenots were murdered (many of the women were raped first). As many as could, fled across the Channel to England.
    It is this event that gave us our modern meaning for the word “massacre.” The original French noun referred to a “butcher shop.” After the constabulary force in Lyons refused to execute the Huguenots in the city jail, the Catholic Authorities turned the job over to the city butchers who left the slaughterhouses and entered the jail with chopping knives and butcher’s axes. It is said that the butchers cut off fingers and hands of their victims for fun before administering the final blow. Human beings were treated worse than live-stock.
    Guise sent Coligny’s severed head to Pope Gregory XIII who was delighted to have it.
    The Roman Catholic King of Spain, Philip II, was visiting the Vatican at the time and he and the Pope celebrated the massacre with a solemn “Te Deum” mass.
    During the period of the reigns of Henry VIII to Elizabeth I the officially recognized religion of England went back and forth between Catholicism and Protestantism several times. Naturally the Protestants in England who were then in ascendancy (after the coronation of Elizabeth) were alarmed by what was happening in France. Their response was simple; they rounded up Catholic leaders and after imprisoning them briefly in the Tower of London they were beheaded. To make sure that it was not lost on her subjects what a fowl crime Catholicism was, Elizabeth gave orders for those Catholic leaders to be slit open and disemboweled prior to their beheading. Their heads were then placed on spikes and placed strategically throughout London to serve as a warning to anyone contemplating practicing the old faith.
    While Ottoman rule was particularly retrograde, when it comes to religion, the behavior of the British, Austria-Hungarians and the Ottomans (as well as the French) can only be described by the word “revolting.”
    D. Phipps, I also want to repeat to you what I said to Dan Kervick. I am sure that contemporary issues weigh more heavily on the minds of Europeans than historical ones when they decide whether to support or oppose Turkey’s membership in the European Union; just like a whole range of contemporary issues are paramount factors in race relations in the United States. Despite this, the history of slavery in America is an important backdrop that gives context to how the races interface in the United States. Their shared history is one of many factors in defining how African Americans and Caucasian Americans relate to each other.
    I think that the same thing is true in Europe when it comes to thinking about the Turks. Contemporary issues may predominate, but the history of the Ottoman Empire in Europe is far from irrelevant in defining how Europeans feel about Turkish ascension to the EU in the 21st century. I believe that this history provides a tableau for how these modern issues are contemplated.
    Thanks for putting me in mind of all of this.


  5. PissedOffAmerican says:

    “Ben Katcher, I am glad that there is a Turkish expert who posts regularly at New America Foundation blogs”
    “Expert”, maybe.
    But don’t ask him about the current estrangement between Israel and Turkey. Apparently he thinks the estrangement can be debated while omitting mention of the causes behind the estrangement.
    And in Katcher’s world, Sibel Edmonds is just another purveyor of far-fetched conspiracy theories.


  6. Paul Norheim says:

    “There don’t seem to be any personal attacks or nasty language, just good old
    fashioned debate.”
    D. Phipps: Please don`t visit the archives – for example during the bombing of the
    Gaza strip… Yes, the tone is civil now – but it wasn`t always like this. Glad you
    like the blog. We like it too.


  7. D. Phipps says:

    Steve Clemons-brilliant blog. Ben Katcher-brilliant post. Wigwag-brilliant comment.
    I’m a newbie here, I have only been coming around for about one month. I love this blog; it’s like nothing else.
    Wigwag, your comment here is one of the smartest comments I’ve read in the comment section of a blog. You should comment more often. I do have two slight quibbles. The Ottomans were not the only conquerers to forcibly convert subject populations. Nor should you forget what indigenous rulers have down to their own subjects who professed minority faiths. The Spanish Inquisition is the perfect example and it was committed by Roman Catholics not Muslims. It was the Ottomans who provided refuge to the Jews expelled from Spain.
    While the history that you recite in your comment is mostly true, I doubt that many Europeans are familiar with it. Everyone in the Balkans is as are the Greeks. But France and Germany are the two nations that will speak most loudly about whether the Turks get into the EU. Despite what you Americans think, schooling in Europe really isn’t any better than in the United States. Most German and French students probably never learned the historical facts you mentioned or if they did, they have probably been long forgotten.
    Ben Katcher, I am glad that there is a Turkish expert who posts regularly at New America Foundation blogs. You know alot about the subject and I look forward to hearing your opinions.
    Steve Clemons, you run a sterling operation. I feel myself more drawn to your little corner of the online world than to any other, at least when it comes to international affairs. I am amazed at how civil the discussion is here compared to so many other blogs. There don’t seem to be any personal attacks or nasty language, just good old fashioned debate. This makes the Washington Note very unique. I don’t know how you do it, but whatever you’re doing-keep it up.


  8. Marc Larivière says:

    What role religion should play, it’s up to the Turks to decide, indeed, if they want to be allowed into the EU…
    We, French, as well as the Germans,dont really feel like facing an overwhelming majority of islamic adherents considering their reflex tendency to domination and exclusion…
    Number makes law, as you know, in our democratic system, it’s as simple as that!


  9. Gray says:

    “Greece … very properous.”???
    They’re BANKRUPT! Read the effing news!
    Really, that’s the level of knowledge about European issues on the side of the dreamers who stomp for Turkey being allowed into the EU? Somehow, I’m not surprised.


  10. WigWag says:

    Imad, I did mention Greece; here’s what I said,
    “The Hungarians and Greeks beam with pride for having fought Ottomanism to the last.”
    You say that Greece used to be Ottoman territory which is true for a relatively short period of time. Of course Ottoman territory was once part of Byzantium as well. I suspect the Greeks would disagree with you about the legacy of Ottoman rule. While the Cyprus issue is a continuing irritant between Greece and Turkey, I suspect you know perfectly well that the history between Greece and the Ottoman Empire was particularly troubled. It resulted in massive population expulsions on both sides and a tremendous amount of mutual suffering. By the way, I’m not sure I’d call Greece very prosperous; it is one of the more troubled nations in Europe both economically and socially, although I don’t think the Ottoman legacy has anything to do with that.
    It is true that nations like Serbia, Bosnia and the other Balkan states once resided behind the Iron Curtain. But the same thing is true of Hungary, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Poland. The later nations are all thriving; the former are poor and in many cases suffering. The difference is that Serbia, Bosnia and the other Balkan nations were colonized by the Turks; the Slavic nations in Northern Europe were colonized by the Hapsburgs or the Romanovs.
    The Russians and Austria-Hungarians may have been corrupt and greedy rulers; the Ottomans were worse.
    Dan Kervick, I don’t doubt that contemporary issues between Europeans and Turks are a major factor if not the major factor in determining the views Europeans have about Turkey entering the EU. But I can assure you that the history that I mentioned is far more acutely understood and real to Europeans (and Central and Southern Europeans in particular) than to your average New Hampshire resident. There are many reasons that Christian Democratic Parties all over Europe oppose Turkish assension; the history I mentioned is one of those reasons.
    But I think you are right; concerns about Turkish immigration, hostility to Islam, Turkish treatment of the Kurds, Turkish treatment of the Alevi, Turkish denial of the Armenian genocide; Cyprus; Turkish civil rights policies (like the banning of “You-Tube”) and the government’s attitude towards the Orthodox Church; all play a role in reducing the enthusiasm on the part of some Europeans for Turkey’s membership in the EU.


  11. Gray says:

    “European attitudes toward Turkey are most likely far more influenced by their perceptions of contemporary Turkey, and of Turkish immigrants inside their own countries”
    Indeed. But it doesn’t make much of a difference. Those perceptions are mostly negative. Or, let’s say, they are not positive enough to make people support Turkey joining the EU. Merkel knows that, but she doesn’t know how to politely take back the foolish promises of former governments. So she will drag her feet forever. She knows that deciding to allow Turkey in could topple her.
    So, hey, why don’t you stomp for Mexico becoming the 51st state of the US instead? That’s as popular in the US as Turkey joining the EU is in Germany!


  12. Gray says:

    For heaven’s sake, would one of those lunatics who stomp for the EU to let Turkey in once make a compelling case for how to deal with the inevitable problems? The truth is, we simply can’t afford Turkey to join the EU! It’s nation of 76 million people (as big as Germany!), Germany has the biggest share of Turkish immigrants in all of Europe, many Turks have relatives here and/or speak our language, the standard of living here is higher than in Turkey, even for the jobless, and as EU citizen they would be elligible for the social net and all benefits here.
    Really, letting Turkey in would overwhelm our nation with new Turkish citizen, typically with low qualification and bad chances on the jobmarket (and the official unemployment rate now is 10%) ! It’s absolutely the same as if the US would adopt Mexico as the 51st state. The US would never do that, so why do some irresponsible fruitcakes expect Germany to commit economical and sociological suicide? THAT’S NUTS! Stop dreaming, face reality, dammit!


  13. Imad says:

    WigWag, you forgot to mention Greece. Greece also used to be Ottoman territory. But it’s treated as any other European country, as it doesn’t suffer any conflicts, other than Cyprus, not to mention being very properous. When you look at the other countries like Serbia, Bosnia, and other Balkan states used to be under that thing we called the Iron Curtain, remember?
    If anyone is deluding anyone, it’s you on yourself, i’m afraid.


  14. Dan Kervick says:

    WigWag, I suspect you are greatly overestimating the impact of long-term historical consciousness on the attitudes of the average European. European attitudes toward Turkey are most likely far more influenced by their perceptions of contemporary Turkey, and of Turkish immigrants inside their own countries, than by views about 16th and 17th century Ottomans.


  15. WigWag says:

    I wonder if Ben Katcher who is so well versed in Turkish politics has spent any time at all studying Turkish history. If he had, perhaps he would have a more nuanced view of why so many Europeans are reluctant to embrace Turkish membership in the European Union. The historical role that Turkey played in Europe can best be described by the word “barbaric.” In fact, of the three major western “empires” that dominated the world from the middle of the second millennium until the end of the Great War, none behaved in a more reprehensible manner than the Ottomans. While Americans, who are generally ignorant of the Turkish role in Europe, have little understanding or even awareness of this history, the Europeans, especially in Southern and Central Europe are keenly aware of it. In fact, the role the Ottoman’s played in Europe, is etched into the European consciousness in the same way that the role of slavery is etched into the consciousness of Americans.
    The Ottoman Turks were so reviled in Europe that there is great difficulty in crediting any one ethnic group or state with delivering Europe from the Turks and from Islam; there are simply too many rival claimants for that “honor.” The Austrians and Poles boast to this day of having defended the gates of Vienna. The Venetians and the Maltese brag of valiantly “hanging-on” until the victory at Lepanto. The Hungarians and Greeks beam with pride for having fought Ottomanism to the last. Perhaps no group claims more credit than the Serbs who defeated the Turks in numerous battles despite their tragic defeat on the plain of Kosovo. The point is that the memory of these events, while meaningless to Americans, is far from meaningless to millions of Europeans.
    When Napoleon famously said that “great empires die of indigestion” he was probably right and there is simply no question that nothing fills the nostrils like the stench of a dying empire. But with that said, the Ottoman Empire both when extant and in extremis was far more destructive than either of its main competitors in the west, the British Empire or the Hapsburg Empire.
    Of course that doesn’t mean that either the British Crown or the Hapsburg Emperors were engaged in a benign or laudable enterprise; they weren’t. Speaking of his own homeland, Bertrand Russell called the Empire “a cesspool for British moral refuse.” The British imperial enterprise was characterized by racism and greed. It was also terribly violent as the Irish, the Australian aborigines and the Maori will attest. The Hapsburgs were corrupt, stupid and incompetent. Rebecca West got it right when she said “this family from the unlucky day in 1273 when the College of Electors chose Rudolf of Hapsburg to be King of the Romans precisely because of his mediocrity, till the abdication of Charles, II in 1918, produced no genius, only two rulers of ability (Charles V and Maria Theresa) and countless dullards and not a few imbeciles and lunatics.”
    Almost unbelievably, the Ottomans were far worse. Perhaps the best contemporary evidence for this can be found by examining the current status of the “colonies” those empires once ruled.
    The British had dominion over Australia, New Zealand, Ireland, Gibraltar, India, Hong Kong and Singapore to name just a few. All of these nations are modern or modernizing societies and several are among the richest nations in the world. Many people blame the British for the sorry state of today’s Middle East. They forget that while the British controlled that part of the world from the time they received their “mandate” from the League of Nations until the end of the Second World War (a period of about 30 years), this land mass was ruled by the Ottoman’s on and off for half a millennium.
    Several Central and Southern European nations including Hungary, Croatia, and Slovenia migrated from Ottoman control to Hapsburg control; every one of those nations became more prosperous, more liberal, more literate and less taxed when it did. Each of the nations that comprised the Hapsburg Empire is thriving today; think Austria, Hungary, the Czech Republic, and Slovakia. Also think of the Netherlands, Italy and parts of Germany that were ruled by the Hapsburgs for some period of time.
    Unfortunately, the nations that suffered under the Ottoman yoke are almost all poorer, more violent and less developed than their counterparts who belonged to the British monarchs or Hapsburg emperors.
    Bosnia, Bulgaria, Macedonia, Montenegro, and Serbia are amongst the poorer nations in Europe. Albania and Kosovo are the poorest European nations (unless one includes places like Georgia). In short, every European nation colonized by the Turks for any extended period of time is, to this day, backward and struggling. Anyone who doubts that this is a legacy of Ottoman rule is deluding themselves.
    It is also interesting to note that the larger the proportion of the population of those nations that converted to Islam to placate the Turks, the poorer the nation is today. The Serbs resisted the Turks more assertively than any other colonized nation and they refused to give up their Orthodox Christianity; they are the most modern of a backward bunch. The same can be said about the Montenegrins and to a lesser extent, the Bulgarians. About two thirds of the Albanian population converted to Islam in the 17th century; Albania is one of the most backward nations in Europe. Most Kosovars converted (many Albanians also migrated to Kosovo) as did approximately one third of the Bosnians and one third of the Macedonians. Today, each of these nations is very poor and very troubled.
    All too often those who complain most loudly about cultural imperialism are themselves the biggest cultural imperialists. Americans who celebrate the Fourth of July, Veteran’s Day (Armistice Day) or Martin Luther King’s birthday are in no position to preach to the Europeans that “what’s past is past” and that they should “forgive and forget.” To millions of Europeans that history is real and there are still Europeans who are alive who can remember the role of the Ottomans in Europe. Even those who can’t remember can view the results of the Ottoman legacy. It isn’t pretty.
    None of this is to suggest that the Turks should not be admitted to the European Union; in fact, my personal opinion is that they should. But only the uninformed or the shallowest of observers will fail to understand why so many Europeans legitimately view Turkish accession with such skepticism.
    It should also be said that it is up to the Turks to decide what type of society they want to live in and what role religion should play in their society. But given the history of the Ottoman Empire in Europe it is perfectly understandable why many Europeans view the recent Turkish rejection of Kemal Ataturk and secularism with suspicion if not with alarm.


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