What does noch nicht mean in this present tense example?
Futuristische Wolkenkratzer sind noch nicht Europa
It’s from an article in Spiegel Online.
I would guess the translation is:
Futuristic skyscrapers aren’t only European.
The phrase “A ist noch nicht B” can mean that A does not necessarily imply B, that it is not enough to have A for to also have B.
Looking at the context, the journalist apparently wanted to say that the mere presence of futuristic skyscrapers [in Moscow] is not sufficient to say that Russia is turning to Europe. He did so in reply to a statement in which Mr. Verheugen claimed that Russia will stay in need for cooperation with EU for economical reasons, and that one could look at Moscow [and it's skyline] to get an impression of Russia's economic rise in the last 15 years.
Although you will find this pattern (IMHO at least) most frequently with present tense, the interpretation is essentially independent of the tense, as chirlu correctly pointed out.
If you are looking for suitable translations for the sentence you might also want to read the answers on my related question on ELL. Note that all participants there agreed that you better shouldn't translate noch nicht with not yet in this case.
noch nicht = not yet
in all cases applicable.
Attempt for a (somewhat wordier) translation, which may be easier to grasp than that from Matthias:
From the presence of futuristic skyscrapers alone, you should not deduce to be in Europe or find the liberal mindset (Europeans claim to have).
Noch nicht just means not yet, in this case in the sense of not being quite sufficient: not quite. (Normally one would translate not quite by nicht ganz. But the demarcation between the two phrases is slightly different in German, so that in this case noch nicht is a better fit in German and not quite is a better fit in English.) The real difficulty in this sentence lies elsewhere. Out of context I couldn't figure out what it means.
The context of this sentence is that Verheugen praises the economic boom in Russia. The interviewer then rhetorically reduces this boom to futuristic skyscrapers and posits that these alone don't suffice to make the country European. He or she uses a special colloquial and relatively rare idiomatic meaning of be that is better translated to English using a more specific verb. Some possible translations, ranging from overly literal to totally free and catching the meaning precisely by adding bits of the context:
Futuristische Wolkenkratzer sind noch nicht Europa.
Futuristic skyscrapers aren't Europe yet.
Futuristic skyscrapers don't make Europe yet.
Futuristic skyscrapers don't quite make Europe.
Futuristic skyscrapers don't quite make a country European.
Futuristic skyscrapers don't quite make a country part of Europe.
There are several difficulties in this sentence, like the use of the word “Europa” to mean “European [country]”, which make a word-for-word translation including “not yet” difficult, even if that’s basically what “noch nicht” means. But you cannot easily use the word “Europe” that way in English so any attempt at translating the “noch nicht” part without significantly altering the structure of the sentence is likely to fail.
From the context, you can gather that the idea is that Russia is on a convergence course with the rest of Europe but the interviewer wants to stress that the country is not there yet, in spite of the changes pointed out by Verheugen (which include new skyscrapers popping up in major cities).
Some clumsy but faithful translations could therefore be:
Futuristic skyscrapers do not make a country European yet.
Futuristic skyscrapers are not enough to make a country European (just) yet.
Somewhat jokingly (and ironically referring back to the German word order, even if this construction is occasionally used in English nowadays) you could also say:
Futuristic skyscrapers do not a European country make.
The sentence does incidentally imply that skyscrapers are found in countries that are not European (geographically and otherwise) but that’s a trivial point and not its main intent so
Futuristic skyscrapers aren’t only European.
isn’t a good translation.
Europe isn’t merely skyscrapers.
would be more like it but the idea of ongoing change and the possibility that Russia really will be fully European at some point in the future, possibly conveyed by “noch”, is lost (but see the comments for a discussion of that nuance).
In this case I think the most suitable translation is "still un-European".
But it's a rather sarcastic reminder, jokingly delivered as news, which is of course language-independent.
I wouldn't over-analyse this.