Where Europe's Boundaries Lie
Nicolas Sarkozy has set himself ambitious goals. No-one can deny that this small man has the energy and the will to make things happen. On the contrary, he often reminds one of a hyperactive child, on whom one has to keep a very close eye.
Among his goals is the revision of Europe's policy towards Turkey. Unlike the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is also opposed to Turkish entry to the European Union, Sarkozy does not hold himself back. Unlike her, he seems to have thrown off the fetters of France's national policy.
The EU started accession negotiations with Turkey a long time ago, and it has entered into commitments. Sarkozy sees no reason to continue these negotiations.
Turkey for him is simply not part of Europe. Unlike most other opponents of accession, he needs few words to justify his position. He turns the Turkish question into a simple border issue – as if Europe were already a state which has to define its borders in order to exist.
Securing Europe against Turkey
Everyone knows that this is not the case and is unlikely to become the case for a long time to come. On its good days, Europe is a community of values, while on its bad days, it is a bureaucratic monster with inadequate democratic legitimacy. But Europe is also another way of expressing the hope for peace throughout the continent and for more influence in the world.
Border questions are always also questions of recognition and identity. Only those who require reassurance as to their status need a border which secures them against others. Sarkozy wants to secure Europe against Turkey.
There is certainly no valid geographical argument for his position. A glance at the map will show that Cyprus is south of Turkey, and further away than either Istanbul or Ankara. But Cyprus is a member of the European Union.
Sarkozy's need for a border can also be seen as part of an attempt to ensure the maintenance of French influence in the EU. A country as big as Turkey, which will soon have 80 million inhabitants and already has a dynamic economy, should not be allowed to join.
Would it not be better from France's point of view to make Turkey into a leading power in the Mediterranean region? If one leaves the EU countries out of account, Turkey already has that role.
Sarkozy wants to tempt Turkey to revise its position with the offer of a Community of Mediterranean States. But the fact that he is trying to do that makes it clear that he knows nothing whatever about Turkish history and Turkish sensitivities and dreams.
Turkey's cultural revolution
Turkey has been trying for nearly one hundred years to break out from its own borders. A veritable cultural revolution was set in motion in order to lift the boundary between East and West, between Europe and the Orient. One can argue as to how well it has succeeded, but the attempt was worthwhile for the progress of civilisation and has had a clear influence.
Ironically it was France with its republican spirit, its ideals of the Enlightenment and its laicist system of state which was the example which Turkey chose to follow.
The Turkish desire to break out of its borders is today far more significant than Europe's yearning to set those borders in stone. Turkey's motives spring from the very spirit of Europe. The Europeans hesitate because they have lost faith in the achievements of their own civilisation.
They could urgently do with an ally on the other side of their imaginary border – and Turkey is that ally. If Turkey is prepared to continue on its way towards the West, that would be a message which ought to be celebrated and supported. After all, what advantage would Europe have from a clash of cultures when Europe itself no longer has faith in its own values?
Europe needs to open its mind
Europe does not need borders – it needs rather to open its mind, to read about and become aware of everything that is going on in the world. That is not always easy in these times of mass communication. It is often a challenge to one's ability to absorb more information and a test of one's own assumptions. But the alternative is stagnation, inertia, as one can see in the case of France.
This stagnation not only endangers economic growth, it also threatens the value system stemming from the Enlightenment, which demands that one's own position can only be tested by critical questioning – in other words, by continuous opening up of one's own taboo zones.
Sarkozy is benefiting from the fact that people's fear is currently greater than their hope. So he chooses to build boundaries. There is a growing desire for clear demarcations. But if our world were to become smaller, would we be safer? Would we be happier?
© Zafer Senocak
Translated from the German by Michael Lawton