Vatican will not oppose Turkey's EU candidacy


Coming into his trip to Turkey, one looming question was whether then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger's private opposition to the country's candidacy for the European Union would become the public position of the Vatican on his watch as pope.

After day one of the trip, we have a clear answer: "No."

In a meeting which was in doub until the last moment, Benedict met Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan at the Ankara airport, and afterwards Erdogan claimed that the pope had issued a "placet" to his country's European aspirations.

“Turkey should take its place in Europe,” Erdogan quoted Benedict as having told him.

Later in the afternoon, Jesuit Fr. Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesperson, issued a clarification indicating that although the Vatican does not have the political role of passing judgment on Turkey's EU candidacy, it nevertheless "views positively" the process of dialogue and drawing closer together that Turkey's EU aspirations represent.

One could parse that statement in different ways, including as a veiled invitation to Turkey to move closer to European standards on human rights and especially religious freedom.

Yet however one slices it, one thing is clear: the Vatican is not going to create a new stumbling block in Turkey's path to the EU, and that alone was sufficient to make it huge news here.

The shift in position marks a significant change from the position taken by Ratzinger prior to his election as pope. In 2004 comments, Ratzinger said that Turkey had always been “in permanent contrast” to Europe and that it would muddy the Christian identity of Europe to admit an overwhelmingly Muslim state.

The pope’s position on Turkey in the EU loomed as one of the potential flash-points of his Nov. 28-Dec. 1 trip. Sunday, however, Lombardi tried to take the issue off the table by saying that the Vatican had no objection to Turkey joining the EU.

Lombardi made the comments in an interview with the Turkish news ageny Anatolia.

"Turkey's membership in the EU depends on its ability to meet the EU criteria. If Turkey fulfils its obligations and meets the requirements of the EU criteria, why shouldn't it become a full member of the EU?" Lombardi said.

Benedict’s comments on Turkey and Europe seem to be of a piece with his broad effort on this trip to project an image of friendship and mutual support, beginning with his comments this afternoon on the papal plane.

The pope said that he was embarking on a "trip of dialogue, brotherhood and reconciliation at this difficult moment in history."

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts and reactions to Letters to the Editor. Learn more here