Turkey Knocks, EU Ponders

Turkey knocks, EU ponders
Membership talks likely to start, but Europe yet to shed misgivings
JEFFREY FLEISHMAN    
Posted online: Friday, December 17, 2004 at 0000 hours IST
The Indian Express

BERLIN, DECEMBER 16: Can a Turk be a European? That centuries-old
riddle will be asked again, when Turkey is expected to take a big
step in its troubled quest to join the European Union. EU leaders are
likely to make an official announcement on beginning membership talks
with Turkey, a prospect certain to intensify doubts that a Muslim
nation can be embraced by a Europe anxious about the rise of Islam
across the continent. The historic negotiations could last 15 years.

There is no guarantee of membership. A din of caveats and protests
has already erupted over economic and human rights concerns. But,
in the end, the question is identity: Are Turkey’s history, religion
and borders compatible with the geographic and cultural landscape of
Europe? And, perhaps more important, does a predominantly Christian
Europe want them to be?

“No, it’s not a natural fit,” said Hans-Ulrich Klose, a Social
Democrat and deputy chairman of the German Parliament’s foreign
affairs committee. “It’s going to be very difficult. But we
should give it a good, fair try. If it’s a success and Turkey turns
European, it could be good for security regarding all our concerns
from the Middle East.”

Big-shouldered and chaotic Turkey wants to nudge itself into a
continent that is perplexed about its own identity and future. The
EU admitted 10 new, mostly East European members in May and is still
awaiting approval of a contentious constitution. Economic problems and
high unemployment across much of the continent are hurting the middle
class and eroding the welfare state. Some leading European officials
contend that admitting a moderate Muslim democracy to the EU would
calm the tremendous strain between East and West over terrorism and
the war in Iraq.

The belief is that Turkey, a North Atlantic Treaty Organization ally,
could help stifle Islamic fanaticism around the world and enhance
Europe’s diplomatic leverage in Central Asia and the Middle East. The
clamour against Turkey, whose per capita gross domestic product is
only 28 per cent of the EU average, has energised right-wing European
political parties and much of the continent’s population. Turkey’s
entry would mean that the EU’s Muslim population would soar from 12
million to 81 million. Sceptics envision Europe opening itself to a
flood of religious extremists and migrant workers, and with minarets
cluttering skylines from Vienna to Krakow.

Many Europeans, most notably the French, argue that admitting
Turkey would threaten European secularism and tip the EU’s balance
of power. Former French President Valery Giscard D’Estaing warned
that Turkey’s accession would mark the end of Europe. Conservative
German politician Edmund Stoiber has vowed he will do everything he
can to derail Turkey’s chances if elected chancellor in 2006. Writing
in Le Figaro, Robert Badinter, an ex-justice minister in France’s
Socialist Party, said of Turkey: “Ninety-five percent of the
territory and 92 percent of the population are in Asia. We’ll have,
we Europeans, common borders with Georgia, Armenia, Iran, Iraq and
Syria. I am asking you: What justifies our common borders with these
countries? What justifies that we’d get involved in the most dangerous
areas of the world?”

Such sentiments have led to qualifications and demands that seem to
daily raise the bar for Turkish membership. Pressure is mounting on
Ankara to recognize its longtime enemy and EU member, Cyprus. France
is pressing Turkey to acknowledge genocide over the killing and
deportation of as many as 1.5 million Armenians during World War
I. Some European politicians have hinted that membership talks
would fail and Ankara would be granted a “privileged partnership”
a consolation prize that infuriates Turks and has led to calls that
negotiations end only in full membership. The European Parliament
passed a resolution on Wednesday urging the EU to open accession
talks “without undue delay.” —LAT-WP

–Boundary_(ID_khK7b0T5gnAas2ji1/+CqQ)–

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