As he prepares for the midday rush, Mustafa Baljan puts the finishing touches on the kebabs, salads and stews that make up many a working Turk’s lunch. As the steam carries the scent of lamb and garlic into the street, the 37-year-old restaurant owner considers a popular question: With European economies on the ropes, should Turkey still be seeking to join the European Union?
“Are you kidding? Of course I don’t want to join,” Baljan says. “Countries are going bankrupt. Why would we want to join a union like that?”
After years of seeing their bid to join the EU stalled, Turks are trying not to show too much pleasure these days at the doom-laden economic news emanating from Europe. The Turkish economy is healthy enough that some Turks joke that perhaps the EU should join Turkey instead. However, economists are warning that Europe’s debt crisis could easily spill in Turkey’s direction.
A Lack Of Sympathy For Greece
Having been snubbed from Brussels to Barcelona, Turks may well be looking at their own GDP perking right along and smiling behind their mustaches at the economic ash clouds hovering over various corners of Europe.
Take Greece, for instance. You might say that Turkey and Greece have a robustly competitive relationship. You might also say the Hatfields had a few reservations about the McCoys. As a retired U.S. diplomat once observed, Greece and Turkey are the only NATO allies whose national days celebrate victory over each other.
For many Turks, Greece’s entry into the eurozone in 2000, while Turkey’s own EU bid languished, was a slap that carried an especially bitter sting.
So while Greeks today writhe under the weight of painful austerity measures and some European analysts snarl that maybe Greece never really belonged in the club anyway, the immediate reaction of Turks is not one of neighborly sympathy.
“I think Greece deserves that!” marketing specialist Harika Eren says. “Yes, I’m sorry, I’m not racist, but Greece deserves that!”
Analysts say Turks would do well to stifle the schadenfreude, however, because the EU remains Turkey’s largest and most important trading partner. That’s why economist Daron Acemoglu at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology says the eurozone debt crisis is a “ticking time bomb” for Turkey.
“The situation for Turkey is critical at some level, because Turkey is in the midst of a very large current account deficit,” he says. “It’s already brought its interest rates down, so it doesn’t have much room [to] maneuver if things start going bad.”
At some level, many Turks do realize that in today’s world, economic pain can spread just as fast as gain. For the moment, though, they don’t mind taking a page from the British and thinking, “Well, glad we didn’t join that club!”