I was in a meeting with European journalists on a foundation-sponsored tour of the United States. It was a generally placid group until the subject of Turkey came up – mostly Muslim and mostly in Asia – petitioning to join the European Union. Of the journalists in the group, the Dane was vocally in favor of this and the Frenchman, against.
The Dane argued that if Turkey came in, it would become a friendly state and – he didn’t quite use this term – a more civilized neighbor. If it were blackballed, it could become a rogue state like Iran.
The Frenchman shook his head. If that was the argument, he said, “then Turkey is not fit to become a European state.” And anyway, he said, Turks are not Europeans.
They let their army dominate their government, the Greek said.
We should let them in, the Dane said.
If you’re going to let in the Turks, the Frenchman replied: “What about the Moroccans? The Tunisians?”
The Dane, not answering that question, asserted that it was better to bring the Turks “onto the boat.”
They’re in NATO, the Frenchman said. That’s enough. Admitting them to the EU would be inviting them to join a future European state. “There are 80 million Turks – almost as many as there are Germans,” he said. He seemed to cringe at the thought of the French being outnumbered by another nationality. The Dane did not worry about it. Danes expect to be outnumbered.
The Italian was not worrying, either. Only 20% of Europeans want the Turks in. Sarkozy, the new French premier, is against it. Won’t happen.
The subject shifted to Europe’s birthrate. The Italian, whose countrymen have one of the lowest birthrates on earth, said, “I’m 30 years old, and I have no kids. Many of my friends have no kids.”
But why? “Wealth,” the Dane said, but he was really talking about a kind of tiredness. “We have procreational fatigue. Big companies closing down. Old art. That’s Europe for you.”
The news reports say Europe is doing well – at least, better than it was in the ’90s. But this group – except for the Czech, who was as upbeat as a dot-com prince – was notably glum. Italy was in “a deep crisis of confidence,” he said, worried that Italy was not well-positioned to compete in the global economy. France had unemployment of 9%. The Frenchman said that was not such a bad figure, “for us,” though he was clearly not proud of it. The Hungarian said the unemployment rate in her country was at 9% to 10%, with 10% inflation, and heavy taxes for all the social pro- grams. Half of her income went to taxes, she said.
The Dane sniffed. Sixty-four percent of his income went to taxes. There was a moment of silence. Nobody could top that.