TCS Daily

Is There a Place for Turkey in Europe?

By Joseph Tom Goeller - September 20, 2004 12:00 AM

The EU's long awaited progress report on whether Turkey meets the so-called Copenhagen Criteria -- i.e., a stable democracy, respecting human rights, the rule of law, and the protection of minorities -- is coming very soon. It's important because it will determine whether Ankara can begin negotiations for EU membership.

The Brussels-based think tank Friends of Europe recently published an analysis predicting that Turkey's EU membership would cost the Union €15 billion a year. The German Eastern European Institute in Munich puts the figure at €14 billion. Both conclude that Germany will have to bear the biggest burden of an enlargement to include Turkey: about €2.4 billions a year. Both predict a wave of some three million poor Turks migrating to Germany within the next three decades. The preferred destination in Europe for Turkish migrants in the past 40 years has been by a large margin Germany, which currently hosts about two million Turks and Kurds. In essence, Berlin is the third biggest Turkish city.

Not surprisingly, then, Germany is concerned about Turkey's EU bid. In general Germans have no fixed opinion about any EU enlargement. They may grumble here and there about the costs, knowing that they have always to bear the biggest financial burden when it comes to new memberships. But in the case of Turkey there is more of an attitude of non-acceptance.

Former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl had the guts to bluntly speak out in the early 1990s and say what the majority of Germans still think: "There is no place for Turkey in Europe. Europe is based on a Christian fundament, not a Muslim one."

Today, the eco-socialists in Berlin, Gerhard Schröder and Joschka Fischer, say they support Turkey's EU membership but if you look closer, those statements are nothing but lip service to the Turkish nation. By now, after running the country for six years, the governing Socialist-Green coalition has shown many times that it acts contrary to its rhetoric: In his first speech after 9/11 Chancellor Schröder expressed the "unlimited support of the German government" for the United States. Visiting Ground Zero on October 9, 2001, he renewed his promise that the US would receive any support Germany is able to contribute, troops included. We all soon learned that this was a lie.

The hypocrisy continues: Germany, which has been lecturing the US for years for not signing the Kyoto Protocol, is unable itself to fulfill the required standards. Germany, pushing the single currency euro into reality, has to acknowledge that it will be unable until at least 2006 to fulfill the necessary criteria for its stability. Germany's capital, Berlin, which calls itself a center of a multi-ethnic society in Europe and is governed by "liberal" socialists, recently banned Muslim head scarves and other "religious symbols" for public employees, knowing that this is a slap in the face of its vast Turkish population.

A key experience that convinced me to be skeptical about a true German support for the Turks occurred at the beginning of this year at the University Club in Washington, D.C., where I talked with the Deputy Chief of the Turkish Embassy, M. Naci Saribas. After a while the German ambassador to the U.S., Wolfgang Ischinger, approached us and I asked him: "When will Turkey become a member of the EU?" He smiled, slapped condescendingly on the Saribas' shoulders and answered: "Our Turkish friends always have been too ambitious." Then he walked away.

One easily can predict that Germany will find obstacles to Turkish EU membership if Schröder is convinced his opposition will win him respect and support at home. Yet, in the past 18 months, particularly since the election of the outspoken Islamist AKP government in November 2002, there has been radical and rapid political reform in Turkey. Major political reforms have promoted democratization, and led to considerable steps forward in the area of human rights, including minority rights and in the area of civilian control of the military. At the same time, the European Commission has made clear its expectation of further progress in a number of key areas before it draws up its vital progress report and issues its recommendation to EU leaders on whether to open negotiations.

In Turkey itself, there is much agreement across different political groups and actors that opening EU negotiations is a vital step if the strong dynamic of political reform is to continue and become deeply rooted. There is also widespread pessimism in Turkey at the impact on political reform if the European Council does not decide to open negotiations in December.

If Turkey joins the Union as a full member in 2015 it will have a population of 82.1 million, slightly smaller than that of Germany at 82.4 million. But Turkey's economy is just 1.9 percent of the GDP of the 25 current EU members and is characterized by major regional inequality. Given its small size, Turkish accession will have minimal impact on the EU economy. The EU however could benefit in particular from the different demographic profile of Turkey, with its much younger, growing population of which millions of migrants will flow to Central Europe. This would be at a time when the EU is beginning to feel the negative impacts of its aging demographic profile, as Germany does already.

But as a large poor country, Turkey will be eligible for significant budget transfers from the Union -- "though these will depend both on policy reforms in regional and agricultural policies in the EU in the next ten years, and on the actual negotiations," -- the Friends of Europe paper states. The likely budget flows "in the first three years of Turkish membership are estimated at a total of €45.5 billion."

Turkey's strategic geographical location, and its large Muslim population, also have implications for the EU - most likely the most important ones in the aftermath of 9/11. Turkey is the only Muslim country in the world that is governed by what can be called a democracy. Therefore, Turkey is the proof that Islam and democracy are compatible, a fact that is vehemently denied by radical Islamists like Bin Laden. There is no doubt: It is in the EU's vital strategic interests that Turkey stays democratic, stable, prosperous and a friendly ally.

To again exclude the "Muslim part of Europe" from the Union would be extremely shortsighted in the fight of global terrorism, would insult the Turks as a nation and fuel dangerous fundamentalist tendencies at the Bosporus that the Western world cannot afford. Every other calculation that looks on financial aspects only would cost Europe in the end many more billions of Euros for fighting against Islamists than a decent EU membership of Turkey will cost now. The cool headed members of the EU should make this very clear to Berlin, before making a fatal decision.


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