Saturday, September 25, 2004

Turkish Delight

Bad pun, sorry... But there seems to be a lot of interest over the possibility of Turkey joining the EU at the moment.

Turkey should, I believe, at some stage become a full member of the EU. It is, after all, already a member of NATO; it has a decent stock of gold to help maintain its moderately successful economy; its political system is suitably "Western" (a President is elected for seven year terms, but has no role in the executive and cannot be linked to a political party, the 550-seat Grand National Assembly is elected by proportional representation on five year terms); it has been constitutionally secular since 1928, despite remaining primarily Islamic; as part of the former Ottoman and Byzantine Empires, it shares a common history with Europe.

There are two major problems with Turkish entry, however. The first is the country's horrendous record on human rights. But this is apparently set to change. The second is its massive, practically unpolicable border to the south and east, which could enable a massive influx of illegal immigrants and/or terrorists into the EU. And we all know how much everyone hates illegal immigrants and terrorists...

There is, in certain quarters, another concern, and one which demonstrates that some people still haven't quite worked out the mistakes of the past. Europe is linked by culture, certainly, but by no means simply by Christianity, as some would have it - that has been one of the most divisive elements throughout European history, splitting east from west during the Great Schism and tearing the west apart further during the hunts for heretics, the Reformation and the Wars of Religion. As Josep Borrell, the President of the European Parliament, has himself said, "The Issue of Turkey's EU membership should not be assessed on religious terms."

It matters not a jot that Turkey is a Muslim country - what matters is that it is a constitutionally secular one. At the moment its justice system needs reforming, its human rights record needs severe improvements, and its economy could do with a boost (plus there's the slight problem of Cyprus, and that it is only just over twenty years since the last military coup). There is opposition to be overcome, but there are few genuine reasons to refuse Turkey entry.

Most importantly, Turkey has long been the gateway between Europe and Asia, and the meeting-point of European and Arabic cultures. It was through Turkey that Europe rediscovered the lost texts of Ancient Greece and Rome, and managed to emerge from the Dark Ages; it was through Turkey that Europe discovered the spice trails to India and China, opening up a whole new world of trade. Without Turkey's impact, Europe would be a very, very different place - no Aristotelian philosophy, no cinnamon sticks to stir your coffee with. Yes, this was all centuries ago and I'm being rather glib again, but we still owe them something, and the major point is we share a common history with Turkey just as much as with Russia, Hungary and Spain.

Turkey should be confident. The objections will quickly be overcome if Turkey can reform itself. The danger will come if Turkey fails to reform itself enough, or if certain European nations scupper the plans for it to join. Pushing Turkey closer to the more extreme Islamic nations of the Middle East - when it could be acting as a negotiator and ideological bridge to improve European relations with them - would only be a bad thing, for Europe, for Turkey, and for the world.

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