This year, Turkey celebrated the fiftieth anniversary of its first application for entry into the European Union.
“Celebrated”, of course, is the wrong word. The wayward odyssey towards European membership has been a difficult journey for the Turks, a half-century of false starts and frustrated ambitions, miscommunication and bad faith. Worse, Turkey has had to watch as other applicants have casually passed them en route with nary a hitch. The latest instance: less than a month ago, Iceland’s application to join the EU was greeted with the assurance that it would most likely only need to wait three years for a positive reply.
Given the interminable delays they’ve faced, many Turks wonder whether their membership application is suffering because of European racism or religious discrimination. It was just twelve years ago, after all, that Germany’s then-chancellor Helmut Kohl was urging his European colleagues to preserve the EU as a “Christian club.”
Indeed, the Turks are not the only ones asking why their country has had such a hard time. The issue of Turkey’s blighted accession has become a shorthand for a broader question on the minds of Europeans: what has the EU become and in what direction should it develop?
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