EU and Turkey - Return to Reason


The prospect of Turkey's entry into the European Union has prompted a passionate debate. The most varied arguments have been put forward: those in favor of entry refer to the promises dating back several decades, the insult a negative response would represent to the Islamic world, the progress achieved by Turkey, 

At the risk of poisoning further the clash between different civilizations; those against membership bring up the fact that five-sixths of Turkey's territory, including its capital, are located outside of Europe, the size of its population, the economic and social consequences of the inclusion of the poorest country in the Union, the existence of a widespread Turkish speaking community outside of Turkey and the oddity of Europe discovering one day that it shares a common border with Syria, Iraq and Iran.

In short, there are many arguments, which divide public opinion. In France itself, at the same time as the President of the Republic declared in Berlin, on 26 October 2004, that "my dearest wish is that EU membership talks, which will last around ten to fifteen years, conclude in the possibility of full membership", 64 percent of the French declared in an opinion poll that they were opposed to Turkey becoming a member. 

Is it wishful thinking to hope that some reason will be introduced into this debate? France can contribute to this enlightenment. It is a discussion which must be held without prejudice and without passions, with an attempt to broach the essential ideas: what is the fairest manner, adapted in accordance with objective information, in which to organize relations between Turkey and the European Union in the coming decades? 

Let us start by examining the first two arguments: the promises made to Turkey and the refusal to accept a Muslim state into the European Union. 

The pledges made in the 1960s must be considered within a different historical context. They involved the possible entry of Turkey into the "Single Market", which was exclusively economic in nature at the time. It can be said that these commitments were respected since the European Union signed a Customs Union treaty in 1995 with Turkey, which gave it access to this market. 

As for the refusal to consider European Union membership for Turkey for religious reasons, this is an ulterior motive ascribed by the partisans of Turkish membership to their adversaries. On this point, a categorical response must be given: the religion of the majority of Turks is not an argument which shall determine the acceptance or rejection of Turkey's candidacy! Besides, it is likely that the European Union shall be led to welcome a state with an Islamic culture, for example Bosnia-Herzegovina, when civic peace and democratic maturity have become the reality in the former Yugoslavia. 

If reference to religion is not an argument to be used against Turkey's candidacy, neither should it be considered, on the other hand, as an argument justifying its entry. Would acceptance of Turkey into the European Union prevent this country from sliding towards Islamic fundamentalism? We cannot know. The intensity of religious faith will depend not only on internal factors, but on the solidarity of ties with the neighboring Islamic countries as well, which to the Turks might seem to be more natural than changing their laws to fit the model set up by remote authorities in distant Brussels. 

Let us therefore set aside this muddle of contradictory questions. 

Article I-57 of the Treaty of the European Union States provides that "Any European State which wishes to become a member of the Union shall address its application to the Council of Ministers. [...] The Council of Ministers shall act unanimously". Each Member State therefore reserves the right to veto the entry of a candidate state. These terms are also provided in the Draft Constitution. 

Is Turkey a "European State"? The Atlas of the magazine "National Geographic" includes Turkey in its section focusing on Asia. While it is true that Turkey still possesses a small European enclave, this portion only represents 5% of its territory and 8% of its population. The rest of the country is located in Asia, on the Anatolia plateau, where the founder of modern-day Turkey, Kemal Ataturk, chose to relocate the country's capital. 

Turkey shares a small border with each of its two European neighbors, Greece and Bulgaria; it has a very long border with the Middle Eastern countries which were once part of the Ottoman Empire, Syria and Iraq; and lastly, it shares a border with Iran and Armenia. Turkey has its own language and culture. The Turkish language does not share the same roots as those found in the large family of Indo-European languages. 

Today, Turkey's population numbers around 73 million inhabitants. It is more populous than any of the European States, with the exception of Germany. The United Nations' demographic projections estimate that, in twenty years, Turkey shall be the largest state in the European Union in terms of population, which could reach up to 89 million. For the same period, Germany, France and Great Britain should have populations of, respectively, 82, 64, and 63 million inhabitants. It should also be borne in mind that the Turkish population is part of a much larger community with Turkish roots which remains united through ties of solidarity, and which extends to the East, notably the Central Asian States, for example Turkmenistan. 

Living standards in Turkey remain a long way off from the ones enjoyed throughout most of Europe. The average income per inhabitant is only half the level of that of the ten new Member States and one-fifth that of the Europe of fifteen. The structure of its economy, although it has made noticeable progress in recent years, is still a far cry from the European "norm". Agricultural production still accounts for 14 percent of its GDP, a figure which led the European Commissioner in charge of Agriculture to declare "the costs to the European budget of the entry of Turkish agriculture alone would dwarf the costs of the entry of the ten new members". 

The current wavering of the European project, the skepticism towards it expressed by European citizens - confirmed by the high abstention rates in the last European elections - can be explained by the lack of clarity of this project. Which Europe is at stake? The successive enlargements have increased the uncertainty of people's opinions. Where will it end - this turning away from a Europe that is still unorganized, ineffective in its results, and which is losing the democratic support of its population? 

Europeans need to strengthen their sense of identity. "European patriotism" can only begin to exist when European citizens become conscious of belonging to a common whole. 

The European Convention sought to better define the basic foundation of this common whole: the cultural contributions of ancient Greece and Rome, the religious heritage which permeates European life, the creative impetus of the Renaissance, the philosophy of the Age of Enlightenment, the input of rational and scientific thought. Turkey did not share any part of this heritage. This simple statement of fact does not imply a pejorative judgment! Turkey developed its own history and culture in parallel, which merits respect. However, it must be noted objectively that the foundations on which identity is built, an essential element today in establishing the cohesion of the European Union, are different. 

Turkey's accession, whenever it should take place, would make it the primary decision-maker of the European Union. It would change the nature of the European project. 

First of all, this accession could not remain an isolated event. 

Already, the queue of possible members is forming, both in the East and the West. The electoral debate in Ukraine is focused on the eventuality of its joining the European Union. It is also likely that Morocco will be tempted to follow the same path opened up by Turkey. The result is a permanent enlargement process, destabilizing the functioning of the system and causing it to lose its original rationale. 

Secondly, the population level is a key element in regulating the functioning of the European Institutions, the European Parliament and the Council of Ministers. 

As regards the Parliament, the maximum number of Members has already been set at 750, and it is provided that the breakdown of its membership be divided up among the States in proportion with its population size, with an adjustment in favor of the smaller states, and a maximum number of 96 members per state. If Turkey were to join the European Union, it would account for a little over 15 percent of its population. It would therefore have 96 members, at a parity with Germany. To make room for these new members, the number of other States' representatives, notably those of Great Britain, France and Italy, would have to be reduced. 

As regards the Council of Ministers, the Constitution provides for recourse to a double majority: for a decision to be adopted, it must receive the support of at least 55% of the States, representing at least 65 percent of the Union's population. With its 15%, Turkey becomes a key factor in the decision-making process. It is hard to forget Spain and Poland's recent opposition to voting by a double majority, even though it was only a matter of being at a disadvantage in terms of a few points. The entry of Turkey would result in a disadvantage of fifteen points! 

In order to avoid the situation where the last State to join the Union - and as a result, unfamiliar with its functioning - would become the primary decision-maker, it would be necessary to rewrite the Constitution and to institute a maximum limit with respect to how the population of Member States is taken into account. The debate triggered by this issue at the Convention should be remembered: the chances of ending up with a new draft acceptable to all are questionable. 

Please do not misunderstand me. As far as Turkey is concerned, it does not have to be merely a question of rejection or contempt. Rather, the reverse is true. 

Indeed, it is because of the fact that it has become a large nation in terms of its size and demography that it represents a sizeable problem to Europe. It is already a weighty presence and will continue to be one, one so considerable that its entry would strike at the foundations of the still fragile community edifice, which was conceived with other ends in mind. Constitutions are not all-purpose forms to which it merely suffices to add the name of the latest member. All Constitutions - the American, French and European ones - are meticulous constructions resulting from compromises imposed by the necessities of the moment. The fact remains that the European Constitution submitted today for ratification was not conceived to take in a power the size of Turkey. 

When tackling this issue, the most surprising finding is the way in which most European leaders have let themselves be caught in a simplistic impasse: either say yes to the opening of negotiations with a view towards the full membership of Turkey in the European Union or shut the door in its face. How did this choice end up being one of such paltry, extreme simplification? Other countries know how to manage these problems better: the United States, Canada and Mexico share as many similarities, perhaps even more, as those existing between Europe and Turkey. No one talks of joining them together. Instead, they have patiently constructed a free-trade zone and established bilateral ties of co-operation. 

Europe needs to reintroduce creativity and imagination in its approach to defining its relations with its neighbors: Turkey, naturally, but with Russia and the Mediterranean countries as well. If the only solution being contemplated is either entry into the EU or running the risk of antagonizing its partners, the European Union is doomed to become a regional organization of the United Nations, a structure allowing for meetings, dialogue and a few specialized areas of co-operation. But, in this case, a common identity, will and role to play cannot exist. The world will evolve without Europe, which will thus be left marginalized. 

Future negotiations with Turkey should therefore not be centered on membership, but should explore the nature of the ties that the European Union should form with its large neighbors. Let us try to speak in concrete terms: as regards the economy, anything is possible, but it can only be a gradual process; as regards politics, nothing other than co-operation is possible, which must be organized in such a way as to satisfy all involved. The European Union must prove that it is capable of making a proposal to Turkey, without delay, which is highly structured, honorable and specific in its terms. 

It is not simple chance which led the European Convention to propose the insertion of Article 57 in the Constitution, which provides the European Union with the possibility of negotiating privileged partnership agreements with its neighbors. This text is the end result of extensive discussions on the manner in which the European Union could respond to the legitimate requests of its neighbors - to the East, Southeast and South - without diluting its own underlying principles. 

The conclusion resulting from the foregoing is thus clear: in December, the European Council should take the decision to open negotiations aimed at establishing a common zone of economic prosperity and setting up permanent structures of political co-operation, key components of a privileged partnership between Turkey and the European Union. 

This is, in my opinion, the constructive and realistic attitude to be adopted which would enable progress by responding to Turkey's expectations without placing at risk the fragile construction of the European Union, which has not yet been able to completely handle the impact on the institutions and the budget ensuing from the last enlargement. 

Of course, this proposal should be actively supported by France - endowed, along with its partners, with the wisdom of the founders - in view of a decision which, it must be borne in mind, can only be taken unanimously. 

While we have recently heard a great deal on the question, "What about Turkey?" perhaps the moment has come to raise another one: "What about Europe?"

 

Valery Giscard D' Estaing is the head of Convention on the future of Europe. This convention is charged to formulate proposals on the future European institutional architecture.

Source: Zaman


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  5 Comments   Comment

  1. abu bakr from UK

    Turkey's desperate attempts to join the EU are humiliating to Islam and Muslims.The Ottoman State once stood at the gates of Vienna, on two occasions, yet now, thanks to the legacy of Ataturk, is willing to shed what little remains of its Islamic identity to join the EU 'club'.The EU has imposed numerous clauses which effectively will prevent Islam having any remaining significance in Turkeys political or economic life if its application is accepted. Last years condemnation of Turkeys move to criminalise adultery is a clear example of this.

    Turkey could become the leading country in the Islamic world and the nucleus of the Islamic state, if it were to realise that its strength does not arise from blindly aping the West and its values, but from the ideology that truly raised it to such great heights in the past, i.e. Islam as a comprehensive way of life and system.

  2. Ayesha from usa

    If Greece is part of Europe, then so should Turkey. I have been to Turkey and it is very similar to Greece. In fact many Greek towns have similarities to Middle Eastern cities and Greece has long been accepted in the EU.

    Ofcourse, because they are a Christian nation. No doubt about that.

    However, I do wonder whether the strategic and trade benefits are really more than the cost of joining.

  3. Nuraini from Malaysia

    Actually, I'm not even exactly sure why Turkey wants so much to join the EU. Probably for its economic benefit, but still, I feel that the two are too dissimilar for Turkey to be considered as part of the EU which is based on Europeanness. It is like Singapore, which hardly seems to want to consider itself South-east Asian, and would love to be considered as part of the West.

  4. g.l. from u.s.a.

    turkey does not belong in the eu. the turks have always fought to conquer the west. now, the west has been given to them. their best strategy would be to enter the eu, begin moving mass amounts of people into europe (especially germany), not to assimilate (it would be against their best interests. why should they, after all europe will be theirs if they just wait long enough), and begin mass breeding (which they are already doing). while the european races die off and the turks multiply, europe itself will become greater turkey.

    the moment turkey joins the eu, it will become the leader of it, given it's demographics. a muslim nation leading the christian west. doesn't anyone see something wrong here? could anyone imagine a christian country (one as far behind as turkey is to the rest of the eu) being INVITED to rule the muslim world?

  5. Sonja MT from USA

    I find it unfortunate that the author delayed making the real point of the article until very close to the end...economic power through decision making ability. That is the point of these so called conventions and alliances. They have given birth to themselves in order to construct a world in which there are those who benefit from the resources of the world and those that do not... this is not Islam. Yes religion IS an issue has been and always will be, because the foundation of these "union"s are based on constitutions created by men to benifit men and the foundation of Islam is the submission by men to the will of the WISE, Giver of JUSTICE, Most MERCIFUL, KING... the ONE GOD, in order to achieve peace. Islam is not socialist in nature but it is far from capitalist in nature. The primary goal of these countries that have a population that is majority Muslim IS the "Islamic fundamentalism" the author is afraid Turkey (i pray) will "slide" into. A true and sincere return to the Qur'an and Sunnah of our beloved Prophet Muhammed (saws). Our goals are not consistent with the anyone elses at their very core, to please and obey our LORD out of Love of HIS reward and Fear of HIS punisment. They are actually at two opposite ends of the spectrum... We as Muslims are called through justice to release mankind from the servitude of man so that he can serve his true Master, whereas these unions and alliances typically are put in place to distinguish between those who serve and those who are served by them and to keep those divisions firmly institutionalized. We are simply in the midst of a long series of trials for the Muslims and when ALLAH(SWT) makes HIS changes and we find this script flipped we will gladly let the countries of Europe and of every other continent into our Union... all you'll have to say is... there is no god but ALLAH and Muhammed is HIS servent and messenger.