Editorial | Turkish Muzak

Setbacks for opponents to Turkey’s EU membership have opened a window for restarting negotiations. But the foreign minister find the right tune quickly

While its musical merits are debatable, this past weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest, as always, provided a valuable lesson in just how vastly different Europeans are. So different, in fact, that the social media sites during the broadcast were awash with people asking whether host Azerbaijan, or any of the other recent newcomers to the contest, even qualify as ‘European’.

That question of what it takes to be European has come up countless times as the borders of the EU have inched towards the states of the former Soviet Union and, in particular, Turkey.

In Turkey’s case, despite the objections of opponents that the cultural differences between Europe (Christian) and Turkey (Muslim) were too great to bridge, it was permitted to begin the membership process in 2002, when Denmark last held the EU presidency. 

After making some initial progress, those talks have been pushed off the agenda: partly by Europe’s financial problems, partly by political resistance in Germany and France. Elections earlier last month in both those countries appear to have made it possible for discussions to resume, but unfortunately, the détente couldn’t come at a worse time: in July, Cyprus, a sworn rival of Turkey, takes over the EU presidency, and few expect any progress to be made.

That means that tapping into the momentum from the election results will need to be done in the next four weeks, as fate would have it, by another Danish presidency. Despite clear statements by Copenhagen that it wishes to see the process reopened, its envoys have been received coolly in Ankara, due in part to the Eastern High Court’s refusal to revoke the broadcasting licence of ROJ TV, a Kurdish station based in Denmark. 

Even with the strained relationship, Turkey’s desire to move closer to the EU, and Denmark’s desire to improve its standing among Muslims after the damage done by the Mohammed drawings, could provide the groundwork for quick progress to be made before the line goes dead for six months.

Opponents of letting Turkey into the European choir, including Dansk Folkeparti, would be more than happy to let silence reign. And while human rights concerns do remain a sour note, so too does the increasing influence of Islam within Turkish public life, and the political and security situations just beyond its borders in the Middle East and in the Caucuses. 

In the end this weekend, Sweden won Eurovision, not just with the votes of a few old-world neighbours, but with the solid support of most of ‘Europe’, showing that when something is really worth getting behind, Europeans can agree. We can only hope that Søvndal can do the same thing and find a tune Europe and Turkey can listen to for the next six months.