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Turkey at the Gates

Brent Gregston, Worldpress.org contributing editor, Paris, France, December 31, 2004

An Italian Northern League member holds a banner reading “No Turkey” during a demonstration in Milan on Dec. 19 against the entry of Turkey to the European Union. (Photo: Paco Serinelli/AFP-Getty Images)

Is making Turkey part of Europe a solution to the clash of civilizations, or is it going too far? Brent Gregston reviews the European Press.

In a historic decision, Europe’s leaders have agreed to negotiate Turkey’s full membership into the European Union. But Europeans are deeply divided over the prospect of sharing a border with Iraq, Iran and Syria. Depending on which newspaper you read, the E.U. is either building a bridge between Islam and the West, or selling its (Christian) soul in exchange for peace.

The Financial Times of London has taken the former view (Dec. 13): “Embracing Turkey, a democratic, secular republic with a Muslim majority and an advancing economy, would come to rank with the E.U.’s highest achievements.” And Spain’s El País fully agreed (Dec. 18). “If the E.U. is successful, it will have managed to export its best product, democracy, and with its Turkish wedding, it will have invalidated the theory of the ‘clash of civilizations.’ If the E.U. fails, it will nourish it.”

In an editorial for Le Figaro (Dec. 17) Ivan Rioufol saw things differently and accused Union leaders of accelerating the “de-Christianization” of Europe. “Something is not right with Europe and its readiness to sell short both its culture and its history simply to be agreeable to an economic partner. … Its leaders are betting, with their eyes closed, on the secularization of Turkey’s values, ways and rules through contact with the West, when in reality they have no guarantees that this will happen.”

“Turkey’s E.U. membership is indeed a challenge, and a risky challenge at that,” noted France’s Liberation (Dec. 17). “But the risk needs to be taken in the name of geo-strategic imperatives.”

Even France’s Catholic newspaper, La Croix (Dec. 20), while not exactly brimming with enthusiasm, suggested that the gamble is worth it. “Trying to link Turkey to Europe and in so doing proving that Islam is compatible with civil liberties is a major challenge. … However, if we do not try, the negative message sent to all Muslims would be tantamount to encouraging the ultra-radicals.”

Eurasia Here We Come

Commenting on Turkey’s accession, Italy’s La Stampa (Dec. 19) mused about a “new reason for being” that it would give to the E.U., which would no longer delegate to the United States: “[W]e must already think of Europe as a world power, a U.S. ally but in many ways separate from it — a power that will continue to be called Europe, but that in fact could be renamed Eurasia.”

“Europe’s influence is rising, as its interventions in the Iranian nuclear crisis and the election fraud in Ukraine showed,” observed Wolfgang Proissl in the Financial Times Deutschland of Hamburg (Dec. 20). “In neighboring regions of Eastern Europe, Central Asia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean and Africa, the E.U. has an interest in stability, growth, democracy, and an increase in its influence. … Judging the E.U. decision on Turkey against this background, one must conclude that it was right.”

Germany’s Die Welt (Dec. 18) concluded it was dead wrong, a case of “breathless expansion,” leading nowhere. “Europe’s government leaders want to increase the power of the E.U. in Eastern Europe and the Middle East, but they are undermining the foundation of their power; its belief in international law and the democratic rule of law … substituting for these principles some lofty fantasies about great territories. Europeans are looking for more power but become weaker and weaker.”

Hold the Champagne

At the end of the E.U.-Turkish summit in Brussels, Government leaders Jacques Chirac, Gerhard Schroeder, and Tony Blair dispensed with the champagne that normally flows on such an occasion. No doubt because Turkish president Tayyip Erdogan is a practicing Muslim. But there are also reasons to hold off celebrating: the many roadblocks to the converging relationship between the E.U. and Turkey

Cyprus looms largest at the moment, according to Sueddeutsche Zeitung of Munich (Dec. 20). “For 30 years the conflict on the island has been part of Turkey’s unresolved problems in foreign policy. … The president of the Cypriot Greeks has it in his hands and can always find allies in the E.U. to put the brakes on Turkey’s accession.”

Not least of the obstacles is skeptical, if not hostile, public opinion in France, Germany and the Netherlands — the E.U. members with the largest Muslim populations.

Nevertheless, Austria’s Der Standard (Dec. 20) suggested that the new relationship is a done deal. “The only way that the announcement of a referendum could be turned into more than a political sham is if there were to be a law making a referendum mandatory for all future governments. At present, Austria’s Chancellor Wolfgang Schuessel, like other heads of state and government, is using the referendum to free himself and his political party from a serious charge: that the E.U.’s consent to negotiations with Turkey is already the equivalent of a partial membership.”

“Are we getting closer to the end, or are we going to be stopped on the outskirts of Brussels?” asked Selcuk Gultasli in a commentary for Turkey’s Zaman (Dec. 20):

“If we … look at the big picture, we see that the flame of reform, which has been burning for the last two years in Turkey, has been strengthened. … Turkey will become a regional power through the application of these reforms. In short, turning the E.U.’s hesitant, reluctant decision into an historic one depends on Ankara. Let’s continue the reforms.”

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