TCS Daily

Europe's Manifest Destiny

By Sylvain Charat - January 12, 2005 12:00 AM

For the first time a non-Christian country is knocking at the European Union's door. And it is in the process of becoming a sustainable liberal democracy precisely because it wants to be a EU member. The impact of this on a country which has long been considered as authoritarian, and is now being lifted up towards genuine democracy, cannot be dismissed.

Yet, the prospect of Turkey's membership frightens some. The European intelligentsia and some politicians use this irrational fear to convince people not to accept Turkey, whose citizens are mainly Muslims but whose government and society are secular.

Indeed Islam is the heart of the matter, and is the pretence for rejecting Turkey. If this happens, European countries such as Bosnia would never be allowed to join if ever they want to. Opponents' arguments contradict the EU's newfangled motto: "Unity in diversity".

If Turks were Christians, no doubt their candidacy would not cause so much consternation. But since they are not going to change their religion, opponents are roaring against Turkey - for not having the same values, the same culture, the same religious heritage, as if it were a crime.

Those arguments are irrelevant, unworthy of a civilization which considers itself as enlightened and tolerant. That is why the European public debate is flawed. The only relevant criterion for Turkey's admission is whether or not it can be a European-style democracy, i.e., a parliamentary regime with separation of powers, check and balances, power vested in a legislative branch composed of representatives of the sovereign people. This is the fundamental framework of European liberal democracies, the only one in which free and open societies can be protected and individual freedom guaranteed.

Thus, besides economic requirements which are more technical in nature, the only valid prerequisite to membership should be the candidate country's ability to be and remain a liberal democracy. Whether its citizens are Christians, Jews, Muslims or even Buddhists should not be an issue.

The EU has just decided to open negotiations with Turkey and the talks will certainly lead some day to its accession. But a serious information campaign should be organized to explain the importance of Turkish integration to European nations, especially if some of them are to vote on the question through referenda.

In resolving the Turkish dilemma, the European Union will show whether it can integrate non-Christian nations as full members. Turkey's adhesion could set a standard for other non-Christian liberal democracies to apply for membership. This will prove to be a crucial test of the EU's credibility and political maturity.

Credibility: who can imagine slamming the door on a country that would do anything possible to meet European requirements? Such a deception could create deep resentment among the Turks, fostering Islamist fanaticism and strangling the opening of a whole society.

But much more is at stake. Besides Turkey's candidacy, the Middle East is, in one way or another, involved. Here comes the political maturity issue: integrating Turkey puts Brussels in the very heart of the Middle East situation and forces the European Union to take on the challenge. The Kurd people's fate would become European policy; Brussels would have to deal directly with Iraq. Unstable neighbors would have to be taken care of. Indeed EU foreign policy would suddenly take on another dimension.

In light of all these consequences, Turkey's candidacy is firing a debate on the European project itself: should it remain a Christian club or become an expanding alliance of liberal democracies? Who can foresee what is going to happen? Turkey's manifest destiny is to become a EU member. Hopefully. The EU's manifest destiny is to be a covenant of liberal democracies. Maybe.

Sylvain Charat is director of policy studies at the French think tank Eurolibnetwork.



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