As the European Union approaches a contentious decision - whether
to let Turkey join the club - the Continent's rulers seem to have
left their citizens behind.
The European Commission is expected to recommend Wednesday that
Turkey be invited to negotiate its membership in the union, 42 years
after Ankara first applied.
But almost everywhere across Europe, the public is opposed to EU
membership for Turkey. There is a widespread feeling that Turkey is
too big, too poor, too distant - and, perhaps most salient, too
Muslim to make a proper member of the European Union.
Proponents of the idea say that voters will catch up to their
leaders by the time Turkey has finished negotiating the terms of its
entry into the EU, which won't be for another 10 to 15 years.
"Popular hostility is a question of ignorance, prejudice, and
misunderstanding", says Albert Rohan, a former top Austrian diplomat
who joined a blue-ribbon Independent Commission on Turkey, which
last month urged talks with Turkey.
That hostility is real, however, and "we cannot afford to ignore
public opinion, leaving European construction to the diplomats,"
argued Franz Fischler, the EU's agriculture commissioner, in a
recent letter to his fellow commissioners. A recent poll found 56
percent of the French opposed to Turkish accession, compared to 36
percent in favor.
Those figures appear to jibe with feelings elsewhere in Europe:
the last EU-wide poll on the subject, two years ago, found 49
percent of Europeans against, and 32 percent for, Turkish
Among the French, the biggest worry was that migrant Turkish
workers would flood Europe. To meet that fear, the Commission was
expected to suggest limits to Turks' freedom of movement within the
EU - restrictions that apply to no other member state.
Behind most people's misgivings, says Francois Heisbourg, head of
the Foundation for Strategic Research, a think tank in Paris, lies
religion. "It is more or less spoken or more or less hidden, but the
major component in popular rejection of Turkey's admission is
Islam," he argues.
Some public figures have the same reservations.. The Wall Street
Journal recorded French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin as
pondering whether "we want the river of Islam to enter the riverbed
The EU commissioner for internal markets, Fritz Bolkestein,
worried that Turkey's entry, which would bring 82 million Muslims
into the club, could lead to the Islamization of Europe.
Such an outcome, he said in a speech last month, would mean "the
deliverance of Vienna in 1683 will have been in vain," referring to
a Catholic Polish army's defeat of the Turkish army outside Vienna
more than 300 years ago.
Supporters say that welcoming Turkey into the EU would offer an
important example of a modern, democratic Muslim country respecting
human rights, which could help take the sting out of a potential
"clash of civilizations."
"We all say we want to support democracy in the Muslim and Arab
world, and here we have a chance to do that," says Emma Bonino, a
former EU commissioner for humanitarian affairs. …