Turkey and the EU


I am personally against the Turkish intent to join the EU, for many different reasons. The most important of these reasons aren't even about Turkey, but about internal challenges of the EU today.

Yet, that's not meant to be the topic here. I want to explain to foreigners why Germans (not actually our politicians) resist a EU membership of Turkey in my opinion.

Foreigners from overseas tend to look at the geography (Turkey being mostly Asian, not European) or the religion (Turkey being a Muslim nation, albeit many Turks are moderate Muslims - Alevites).

There are dozens of other motivations to reject them (economical, political, historical, demographical) - I'd like to explain one specific one.

The relevance for "defence" in this is that a membership of Turkey in the EU would fix them in the European bloc as long as the EU doesn't break apart (that would be another topic).
A Turkish nation that was rejected by the EU could instead become the focus of strategic interest (as ally) in the European, Russian and Arabian blocs as well as the USA and Persia if NATO would break apart sometime in the future (alliances are not nature's laws; they usually end sometime) or if Turkey leaves the NATO.

Back to the one specific reason for the rejection of Turkey:

It's not so much about Europe and Asia - the relevant cultural blocs are not "Europe" and "Asia", but "Occident" and "Orient". These words ("Abendland/Orient" and "Morgenland/Okzident" in German) aren't in regular use in Germany - except when the topics are Turkey+EU or immigration/integration of Muslims (especially when mosques are planned, a childish problem in my opinion).
Please note that "Orient" or "Morgenland" in Germany is defined differently to "Orient" in English; we usually consider Turkey and the Arab world as "oriental".

The key is that Turkey is an oriental country in the eyes of most Germans.

There's a long history of Orient vs. Occident warfare:
First the Crusades in 11th to 13th centuries,
Spanish warfare till 15th century (Islamic conquest, then Reconquista),
Southeast European warfare; Orient/Turks/Ottomans being on the offence in 14th to 16th century and on the defence later - till the end of the Ottoman Empire and the creation of Turkey after defeat in the First World War.

Most people in Germany don't know enough about history to know that, and have never learned about the Turks scare of the 16th century when Turks/Ottomans besieged Vienna.
The cultural difference is obvious to many Europeans, though.

The religious difference is much less important in my opinion. I expect the Muslim Bosnians and Muslim Albanians to be welcome as members later - they were already officially recognized as potential candidates.

The non-occidental-ity of Turkey might give us grand strategic headaches in later decades, but I save that for a future topic.
It's certainly a country of great geo-strategic interest.

Sven O

P.S.: Wikipedia is a mess in regard to the definition of the Orient/Morgenland, differing between English and German versions as well as contradicting itself in the entries for Morgenland and Orient in the German version. The meaning changed in the past centuries anyway, some definitions include only the Arab people while others include all of Asia and Arab Africa. I linked to the definition that's relevant for common Germans.

Turkey is (afaik) by no definition part of the Occident/Okzident/Abendland.


  1. I'd like to add a few comments. For several thousand years, Turkey's population spoke Indo-European languages, mostly Greek. Because of hundred of years of Roman domination, Latin was also very prevalent until the 7th Century. The Byzantine Empire with lasted from the 4th Century to 1453 (1,100 years) was Christian. It is only around the 11th Century that Muslim Turks began to invade what is now Turkey from the East.
    The Byzantine Empire was substantially weakened by the 4th Crusade (which included a German army) in 1204 which sacked Christian Constantinople when it was unable to reach the Holy Land. Constantinople has only been Muslim for 500 years and has only had spoken mostly Turk for 3 or 400 years, after more than 2000 years of having Latin and Greek as dominant language. The Christian Latin and Greek speaking population of Turkey were not massacred or deported, they were converted to Islam and slowly adopted the language of the conquerors over the years. Turkey was not a Asian/Muslim country. It was a European country that was invaded from the east, in great part thanks to the crusades.

    Georgia and Armenia are both east of Turkey. They are both mostly Christian countries. Are they in Asia? Is it out of the question for Germans to consider Georgia as a EU member (from a cultural/religious viewpoint)?

  2. Distance isn't the criterion - Europe is very much about an "us" feeling. It needs some cohesion or its tensions will blow it up.
    Turkey is simply not "us".

    Georgia and Armenia - there was close to zero exchange between that region and Central Europe, they're pretty much blank sheets and I think most consider these places rather like Russia-ish countries than as EU-ish.
    A EU membership of Georgia and Armenia would be thinkable if EU and Russia become more familiar to and comfortable with each other.

    The cohesion problem is so critical because Europe was - contrary to propaganda - pretty much a top-down affair, initiated and driven by politicians and elites. It needs a lot of time to integrate new members, develop an "us" feeling and to develop cohesion.
    The last additions were quite stressful, not the least due to quite egoistic and barely tolerable Polish politicians who began blackmailing established members only months after they had joined the EU.

    There's also the problem of organizational functionality. Many things need to be done in consensus or nothing happens, which makes reform difficult and additional members reduce the likelihood of consensus or make the trade-offs even less advantageous.

    By the way, you mentioned lack of massacres; the Ottomans did no big ones till their final years. Their refusal to admit their genocide of Armenians is one of the problems in the EU-Turkey relations.

    Just as I wrote; there are many motivations against a Turkish EU membership.

    It's a big enough topic for a book, I merely scratched on the surface and used this to hint at possible grand strategic ramifications.

  3. I'm well aware of the Armenian genocide by the Turks, first in the the late 19th and then in the early 20th century.
    What I was refering to was that the invading Turks did not massacre the established populations when they invaded what is now Turkey between the 11th and the 15th century and that present day Turcs are mostly the descendents of those who were Greek and Latin Speaking Byzantines a few centuries ago.

  4. Sven : Where would they (the Turks) stand if there were another Balkans conflict (hypothetically)?

    Were the Balkans even "European" in the eyes of E.U. citizens?

  5. I am not saying I am for, or opposed to EU membership of Turkey. I am just bringing up discussion subjects for what you wrote.
    I am "North American" but lived 6 years in Europe as a youth. I studied French and European history. When Europeans are taught European history, philosophy, mythology, a great part of it is about the Greek Empire. What is now Turkey was part of that Greek Empire. It was definitly Europe then Europe. Who doesn't know about Helen of Troy? Troy was in Turkey. If you look at a map with Greece in its center when Greece was the center of European civilization, (try that with Google Map), it makes no sence to state that Turkey is in Asia. Istanbul is closer to Athens than Rome is.

    How about Albania? What arguments are for or against it joinning the EU. It certainly is not in Asia?

  6. @taxpayer:
    The Greeks never colonized far inland, and the ancient Greeks in Western Turkey (like Milet) were no exception to this rule. Their presence didn't turn Turkey Greek, nor did it turn Libya, Southern France, Sicily or the Crimea Greek.
    These colonies co-existed with indigenous populations, most were closer to European trading posts in India and Africa during the 17th century than to a identity-shaping dominance.

    The (half-Greek) Seleucid Empire ruled much of Turkey for a while and the Romans did so for centuries - yet we don't consider Tunisia as European or occidental even though it was dominated by Rome for even longer, do we?

    The cultural barrier between "Western" and "Eastern" civilizations was indeed between Greece and Persia for centuries, then intermingled due to Alexanders' conquests and later defined by Roman Empire vs. Parthians and others.

    Mohammad changed that - the Muslim conquest turned the distinction to Christian Europe / Ottomans for centuries.

    There is some residual influence of the Ottomans in the Balkans (especially Muslim populations in Bosnia and Albanians).
    Yet, they were driven back till 1913 to Turkey's modern European border, and most previously Ottoman-dominated people are clearly Occidental in culture, religion and self-image.

    The latter is the key; Germans accept Greeks as Europeans, as members of a common cultural sphere. Greek history of 300 BC is "our" civilization's history.
    It's strange, but the Greek-dominated East Roman Empire is not so much "our" history, Germans rather treat the Western Roman Empire's culture as part of their civilization's roots than Byzantinian culture (which was heavily influenced by the East and broke with us in the Great Shism).

    The self-image and the image that the established EU members have of candidate countries is essential. Europe is held together by the idea that "we" fare better united than separately - but we cannot extend the EU to an UN.
    The cohesion is critical, and today's sentiments are the relevant variable for cohesion.

    Germans have an especially complex situation:
    We have many Turkish immigrants (millions) - now guess who immigrated: The suppressed Eastern Turkish Kurds and the rural Anatolian province Turks.
    The new immigrants showed us the face of a quite backwardish Turkey, with customs that are illegal or considered outdated in Istanbul.
    The second and third generations show us a lower class pseudo ghetto culture of loudmouths with an emphasis on prestige objects.

    They lived among us for decades, but didn't integrate fully. Englishmen, Spanish, Greeks have less integration problems - even the 90's immigrants from Russia have integrated themselves much better into our Western society.

    @YT: The Balkan is usually being considered as European, although there was quite little exchange.
    The Austrians have much better connections to the Balkan people than the Germans.

  7. Just one thing: Slovenia wouldn´t be too happy not to be member of the EU on the map you used, Sven. ;)

  8. If you don't do it yourself...

    I told PhotoPaint to fix that.

  9. There are several Occident definitions, some of them do include North Africa West of Egypt.
    I do have a problem drawing a dividing line between Turkey and Greece other than religion and economy. In my opinion we should discuss the entry into Europe of both because modern Greece has as much connection to the Greek roots as Turkey has to the very same roots.

  10. I don't think that such "roots" have a role to play at all. North America has the same ancient roots as we do, yet it's definitively not 'Europe'.