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I Like Turkey, but It's Not Going to Join the European Union

For a brief season, Henry Hopkinson was a Tory politician of the second rank, who might have risen higher if he hadn’t famously misspoken in 1954. As a junior minister at the Colonial Office, he said in the House of Commons that Cyprus would never be granted independence. This dogged him for the rest of his life. “Never say never,” Churchill supposedly said, and Hopkinson was dropped from the government not long afterwards, quite soon departing for the House of Lords under the disguise of Lord Colyton, just before, as it happened, Cyprus became independent.

So, never say never—but then I didn’t. When I wrote that “Turkey is not going to join the European Union,” the words which have so inflamed Melik Kaylan, I specifically explained that that “not going to join” was different from “never going to join.” It may also be that we lack an adequate vocabulary to distinguish among kinds of expression. There is “the Yankees are likely to win the World Series this year,” which is a reasonable prediction based on evidence, or there is “the Red Sox could win the World Series this year,” which is a wish (or optimism of the will, and fat chance, one might add; you will note that American examples are helpfully used rather than Manchester United or Arsenal, which would come more naturally to this writer).    

But then again there is “the Orioles will not win the World Series this year,” and that is close to being a statement of fact. As I write, Baltimore is playing .352, the worst figure in either league, and stands 32 games behind the Yankees. Short of natural catastrophe, there is no conceivable way the Orioles could reach the post-season.

That was what I was trying to say. It is not a question of whether I want Turkey to join the EU. In fact, I have a good deal of sympathy with the Turks, as do many Europeans. Everyone recognizes the huge changes that have taken place in Turkey, or at least northwestern Turkey. And there is another reason for such sympathy. It has long been observed that anyone, diplomat, businessman, or journalist, who has any experience of the Greeks becomes passionately Turkophile, and the fact that Greece has for years—since way before the recent financial implosion which showed the country in such an ignominious light—been much the most unpopular member of the European club, can only help Turkey. 

And yet, I repeat, from when I first took any interest at all in this question, it has been clear to me that Turkey was not going to join the EU. Although I may well have put this in the manner of “haute pub talk” (not a bad phrase), this is not, as I have already said, a personal sentiment or what I want to happen. It’s as objective an analysis as I can make. No doubt Kaylan is right to say that many pundits have never gone near Turkey, and I don’t myself claim any serious knowledge of the country at all. But I do know Europe, which is why I said what I said. 

A noisy American claque insisting on Turkish membership has failed to grasp a number of points. To say that Europe should worry about “the consequences to Europe and the West as a whole if Turkey does indeed drift away eastward or southward in its loyalties” sounds like a threat. Whatever the purposes of the EU may be, they do not include stopping Turkey from drifting anywhere. 

“As for Romania, Greece, and Bulgaria, one need say no more,” Kaylan writes—but he should say more. It was precisely the last enlargement of the EU in 2004 to include Romania, Bulgaria, and other east European countries that set back the Turkish cause much further. After the celebrations came the hangover (if I may put it in pub talk). Europe woke up to realize that its new member states now comprised about one-quarter of its population, while providing about one-twentieth of its economic product, and the implications of that are painfully clearer all the time. 

In referendums a year later, the French and Dutch electorates rejected the proposed European Constitution. Those 2005 votes were also an indirect negative verdict on the latest eastern expansion—and an unmistakable warning against admitting Turkey. Although French as well as Polish politicians sometimes use the rhetoric of “Christendom,” it’s quite wrong to see Europe as “Christian club,” when it isn’t a Christian anything anymore. Is France itself a Christian country? When barely one of ten adults goes to church even once a year? 

But even if it isn’t very devout, Europe is democratic. All of its member states enjoy representative government with free elections, and there is not one today where the populace would vote in favor of Turkish membership. That’s why Turkey won’t join, in the foreseeable future, that is—and I didn’t say “never”—if only because of that sad story. 

Many years later, Lord Colyton was lunching at a London club and found Paul Johnson, the irascible radical-turned-conservative polemicist, talking to him, and staring at him, before saying, “I know you! You’re never-say-never Hopkinson.” “I do wish people didn’t remember I’d said that,” Colyton plaintively replied. “My dear chap, if you hadn’t said that, no one would remember you at all.” I trust that won’t be quite my fate.