No sooner do I post on my impressions of Turkey and its accession to the EU than two big stories break. The first is the widely expected breakdown of talks over Cyprus, now an EU country, but not recognised as such by Turkey which continues to block access of Cypriot shipping to its ports. This is a legal and technical issue which, one would hope, can be resolved with ten years negotiating ahead of us. On the other technicalities and all important reforms Turkey is progressing.
More worrying was the sight on European TV stations last night of Muslim demonstrations against the visit of the Pope. Not worrying because thousands of people were exercising their democratic right to protest, but worrying because for the casual European viewer the scenes of agitated Muslims demonstrating on a religious issue is now a very traditional and negative image thanks to coverage of trouble spots throughout the region. Turkey is secular, modern and developing fast, but last night’s images placed it right back into the comfortable stereo-type of ‘Middle Eastern troublespot’.
The story is news and deserves coverage of course, but it does highlight again that Turkey needs to do a lot more than it is currently doing about getting positive messages and images of the new Turkey across. If the country does not define itself fast, it will be defined by events and stereo-types and this is the single biggest hurdle between Turkey and EU membership not legal or economic technicalities.