Egemen Bağış, Turkey’s chief negotiator with the EU, has recently floated the idea of referenda in EU members on whether or not his country should join. I am not sure exactly what he thinks he can accomplish with this. It is nothing more than a bluff as, if referenda were held today, undoubtedly Turkish membership would be rejected by France, Austria and probably several other countries. The hostility of certain countries to Turkey is extremely deeply rooted and unlikely to change in the near to not-so-near future.
I am very sympathetic to Turkey. There are legitimate issues that would warrant postponing accession such as the abuse of the Kurds, Turkey’s size, and its relative poverty. To accept Turkey now, despite its current economic growth, would be accepting a country as big as all 2004 enlargement countries put together, and somewhat poorer to boot. The more fundamental issue is the Islamophobia of Europe. Many Europeans will never accept the idea of 70 million more Muslims in the Union no matter how secular and democratic they are. Here the Turks have a near-insurmountable problem.
I am not sure what to think. Either they want to be rejected and thus decisively set Turkey on a different path than the lonely one they’ve been on for over a half a century. Or they hope to their openness to referenda will give them some sort of edge in the negotiations. A mix of bluff and abdication?