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European prejudice and Islamophobia

Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Photo: EU Council
Former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing. Photo: EU Council

The notion that Turkey's accession to the EU would be rendered impossible by European prejudice against a country of over 70 million Muslims began to gain currency long before the negotiation process formally got under way. On 8 November 2002, former French President Valery Giscard d'Estaing used an interview with Le Monde to outline his views on Turkey's future in Europe. Admitting it, he argued, "would be the end of the European Union." "Turkey has a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life," he added. "Its capital is not in Europe, 95 percent of its population lives outside Europe. It is not a European country."

Giscard's statement generated a lot of debate at the time: first, because he had recently been appointed President of the Convention on the Future of Europe; and second, because, in the words of a senior EU official quoted by the Washington Post on 11 September 2002, he was "expressing indeed what many of our elite think." European leaders did not heed such warnings, however. At the end of 2004 (and again in 2005) the entire European Commission, two thirds of the European Parliament, and all 25 member states came out in favour of opening talks with Turkey. This was, and remains, proof enough that Ankara has more friends inside the EU than it sometimes admits.

The opening of talks did not end the debate over Turkish accession in important EU member states, however. The French campaign for the 2009 elections to the European Parliament became a showcase for opponents of Turkish accession. President Nicolas Sarkozy's governing UMP made Turkey a theme of its campaign, to the point of asking its leading candidates to issue formal declarations against Turkish accession. On 5 May 2009 Sarkozy once again made clear his own views on the subject when he told an audience in Nimes:

"Europe has to stop diluting itself in an enlargement without end

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