Is Turkey serious about joining the European Union--or is it just cherry-picking reforms to advance its own agenda? An attempt by Ankara to take down the country's biggest media group has Europe worried that Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan is willing to ignore the EU's insistence on a free press in favor of pursuing political vendettas. His government has been putting pressure on the Dogan Media Group, culminating in a fine of $2.5 billion for alleged unpaid taxes that threatens to crush the company. Erdogan insists the fines have nothing to do with his personal feud with the group, whose coverage of the government has been highly critical. But the EU sees clear evidence of an assault on free speech. Later this month the EU's annual progress report is expected to slam Turkey's record on media freedom. And the repercussions could go much deeper. According to one senior EU diplomat in Istanbul, the Dogan case "makes you wonder whether [Erdogan] is really serious about making Turkey a European country."
With pressure growing inside countries such as France and Germany to offer Ankara something short of full EU membership, the timing for the Dogan case couldn't be worse. Erdogan's apparently ambivalent attitude could do serious damage to Turkey's bid. By giving the impression that domestic feuds are more important to him than EU membership, he sends a signal that Turkey doesn't really need Europe. And there are all too many Europeans willing to reciprocate the feeling.