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Turkey Ante Portas

Should Turkey join the EU?

October 12, 2004

Should Turkey join the EU?

Should Turkey join the EU? That is the subject of a major debate within Europe — and around the world. Franz Fischler, one of the European Commissioners, is concerned that this debate is not focused on the really important issues. In this Globalist Interview, he lays out his reasons for caution with regard to Turkish EU membership.

What is the real significance of considering Turkey as an EU member country?

"In my view, the European Union's relationship with Turkey — and the related limits of Europe — are major questions for Europe's cultural identity, socio-economic model, internal cohesion and political future."

What principle should guide our thinking on which countries are eligible for EU membership?

"While Europe does not need a harmonized social policy, it needs compatible social orders in its member states. Where this is not the case, integration collapses — or suffers."

Can you give some examples?

"Just remember the Civil War era in the United States during the 1860's — or Europe's troubles in the mid-19th century."

Why are you concerned about Turkey in that context?

"I am concerned because the mass of Turkey's society is unaware of, or uninvolved in, their government's European policy — and culturally estranged from it."

But aren't your reservations really rooted in the fact that Turkey is a Muslim country?

"No. Religious denomination is not a serious problem for Turkey's potential accession to the EU — because religious tolerance is fundamental to the EU."

Still, how do you answer those who portray you as an anti-Muslim scaremonger?

"Accusing all those who object to Turkey's accession of islamophobia — not to say xenophobia — is a cheap shot."

Didn't Turkey make a lot of progress on the road to modernization?

"It has. And yet, the tensions in Turkey's multifaceted society remain — divided, as it is, between ultra-religious conservatism and westernized secularism, majority Sunni Muslims, men and women, rich and destitute. No European society is such a complex mosaic."

Doesn't the EU risk losing a vital security partner if Turkey does not get EU membership?

"No doubt Turkey is a keystone of Western security and has been so for years — without EU membership."

Shouldn't Turkey become an EU member in order to have a positive, democratizing influence on its Middle Eastern neighbors?

"That sounds compelling. However, Turkey already was a secular democracy as far back as 1923 under Atatürk — without apparent effect on the neighboring Muslim countries.

Are there major countries better qualified to join the EU under your criteria?

"The Russian Federation's credentials are generally more European than Turkey's in terms of culture, geography and history."

And yet, how can you justify not letting Turkey into the EU? After all, it's been on a membership track since the 1960s.

"The Association Agreement of the 1960s with Turkey was signed a few years after the Treaty of Rome, at a time Europe was divided between East and West. There were no thoughts about the limits of Europe — and there were no plans for a political union, let alone a constitutional treaty, which now only awaits (difficult) ratification.”

How deep is the concern inside the European Commission that EU citizens aren't willing to let Turkey in?

"Just ask yourself why Eurobarometer — the EU's very active polling arm, which examines hundreds of issues all the time — has never sought the views of the public on Turkish accession."

So, you are unalterably opposed to Turkish membership?

"No. All I am saying is that the decision must be built on a thorough analytical base, and it must be taken in light of the current stage of European integration, pending the ratification of the Constitutional treaty. I also believe that many reasons given for Turkey's membership are not as strong as they sound at first flush.

What then is your biggest worry?

"If we do not establish a strong ground for Turkish accession, we risk simply moving ahead without further ado based on the argument that "the train has left the station." In my view, this would be a "march of folly," as the historian Barbara Tuchman called those kinds of events where a happy-go-lucky attitude turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy of doom."