16 October 2004
One of the reasons why many in Europe remain sceptical about Turkey's accession to the EU is the putative social and political destabilisation. Karin Wedra, however, argues that the opposite could be the case.
Turkey's Prime Minister Erdogan has worked hard to move his country closer to Europe | Turkey's status as a part of Europe has recently become a topic of fierce discussion. EUROPOLITAN Magazine is participating in the debate and asking whether Europe can afford to fob off the partner on the Bosporus with a "privileged partnership."
The issue of Turkey's membership in the EU is actually an old sawhorse. The concept of Turkish membership has officially existed since the 1963 Association Agreement and was once again reinforced with the tax union of 1995. Its possible membership was confirmed in principle by the European Council in 1997.
Now, over 40 years later, there is suddenly talk of a 'Turkish threat.' The putative dangers lie, chiefly, in the governability of the EU, in geostrategic factors and in Islamic culture.
The argument that Europe can no longer cope with Turkey's entry into the EU appears rather flimsy. In the face of the recent eastern expansion, which after all admitted ten new countries to the EU, the claim that the Union will overextend itself and become unmanageable loses credibility.
For if even a country like Turkey should be too much to bear after the eastern expansion, it begs the question why these countries were granted membership when Turkey had a longer-standing claim.
Fears and objections
The objection that Turkey, from a purely geographical perspective, actually does not belong to Europe is frequently raised. But then, what about Norway or Switzerland? On the map both countries belong to Europe ÔÇô should they, therefore, be forced to join? Brussels is as close to Ankara as Helsinki, which suggests that the European Community is based primarily on political and not geographical factors.
When cultural aspects are examined, however, the debate really becomes controversial. More than ever, fear of Islam, a foreign culture, becomes an issue. Voices insisting that an economically and politically united Europe be limited to the Christian culture and the West are loudest.
Turkey, however, represents a moderate Islam ÔÇô a point that is forgotten again and again ÔÇô and should not be equated with the growing fundamentalist tendencies in the Middle East.
20 million Muslims already in the EU
Moreover, an argument based on religious criteria does not work for future EU member Bulgaria, whose population is 84% orthodox Christian and at least 12% Muslim. And thus the questions arise with regard to the 20 million Muslims already working and living in the EU: are they second class citizens? Do we want to suggest that they are not really welcome?
Integration of its Muslim citizens is a vital question for the European countries. An exclusion of Turkey on religious grounds sends a disastrous signal.
At the same time, Europe and especially Germany are viewed by Turkey as a kind of economic driving force. Turkey can be counted among Germany's most important trade partners.
Recently Prime Minister Blair and Chancellor Schr+Âder stood as a united front for Turkey and supported the country's bid for membership in the EU. Yet, their support was not unequivocal.
Turkey faces a rather stiff entrance examination. During a brief visit to Ankara, Blair repeatedly called on Premier Erdogan to do everything in his power to meet the Copenhagen criteria.
The rules for Turkey are clearly defined. Just as for every other country seeking membership, the Copenhagen Criteria serve here as the basis for membership negotiations. They make provisions for institutional stability and guarantee democratic order, the preservation of human rights as well as the protection of minorities.
Seven harmonisation pacts implemented
Since its recognition as a candidate for membership in 1999, the Turkish government has done all it can to meet these requirements. With the seven harmonisation pacts thus far implemented by the government, the most significant steps have been taken towards its acceptance into the Union.
These steps include the abolition of the death penalty, gender equality, freedom of expression and protection from torture. The Turkish government has made an effort to restrict Islamic political influences on policy; thus for example veils are strictly forbidden in all public buildings, a sign of Turkey's pro-West orientation.
Turkey as a stabilisation factor for Europe
However, the issue is more than just the introduction of Turkey's still backward national economy into the EU. Turkey's entry into the EU is, above all, a strategic decision that must be made in Brussels.
It can assume a leadership role in the increasingly brutal conflict between Islamic countries and the West, becoming a bridge between the West and the Middle East thus supporting a political stabilisation of Islamic trouble spots.
For young Muslims, a European Islam would offer the opportunity to adopt new, more peaceful avenues than their parents while respecting and following their beliefs and traditions. It would certainly be easier to steer clear of the problems in the Arabic world.
But this approach will accomplish nothing. If Europe does not agree to membership negotiations or holds back a 'Yes' too long, the fundamentalist powers of Islam will increase in popularity and Turkey will systematically distance itself from Europe.
To leave Turkey as a disgruntled neighbour standing at the door with a 'privileged partnership' represents the real danger for Europe.