Edition 40 Volume 2 - November 04, 2023

Turkey and the EU

Why Europe needs Turkey -   Soner Cagaptay

Many Europeans fail to see that Turks are "western Muslims" who better acclimatize to Europe.

Under the radar -   Ghassan Khatib

Turkish EU membership may affect relations with the Middle East but does not necessarily affect the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Ramifications for the Middle East and Islam -   Eberhard Rhein

Turkey will demonstrate that democracy, the rule of law and personal freedom are perfectly compatible with Islam.

Securing Turkey for secularism and democracy -   Philip Robins

The ambivalent feelings of Europe's Muslims are more likely to be reflected in Turkey than to be allayed by its closer ties.

Why Europe needs Turkey
 Soner Cagaptay

On October 6, the European Union issued its much anticipated report evaluating Turkey's accession prospects. The report said that Ankara satisfies the union's membership rules sufficiently to begin accession talks. However, the report also suggested a special track for talks with Turkey, one with no promise of membership. This sets Turkey apart from all other candidate countries for which accession talks have been close ended.

Most Europeans would not find this attitude troublesome. After all, common wisdom is that the EU does not need Ankara. Turkey is undesirable because it is large and Muslim. Nothing could be more short-sighted: Europe needs Turkey precisely for these reasons. With its young, secular-minded population, the Turkish democracy offers a solution to Europe's twin dilemmas, an aging population and a restless immigrant community of mostly Arab, radical Muslims whose numbers are growing exponentially. For its own sake, the EU needs to bring Ankara into the union.

So far, the Turks have put forth a brave face toward the EU's treatment of them. Europe's recent decision, for instance, has been hailed a diplomatic victory in Ankara. Yet, Turkey's EU accession is by no means a done deal. First, there is the possibility that the union's final decision in December, which will take into account the recent report, will create a separate accession track for Ankara, along with a laundry list of Turkey-specific reform requirements.

To be sure, there is room for continued political reform in Turkey. Yet, even European bureaucrats admit that Ankara satisfies the EU's accession rules, "existence of rule of law, democracy and respect for human rights," at least as much as some of the EU countries. Sooner or later, most Turks will catch up with the fact that Brussels expects Ankara to become perfect, while it is sufficient for other countries to simply be good to join the EU. Brussels will find glitches in Turkey as long as it keeps looking for them, which only increases the chances of anti-EU backlash in Turkey once the current euphoria dies down and the EU's wavering attitude falls onto the Turks' radar screen.

A second impediment ahead of Turkey's membership is internal European politics. Although the governments in France and Germany, the two most powerful nations in the EU, are supportive of Ankara's bid, today there is powerful opposition in both countries against Turkey's accession. This is fed first and foremost by a backlash toward Muslim immigrants. It is unfortunate that many Europeans fail to see that Turks are "western Muslims" who better acclimatize to Europe than most other Muslim immigrants.

A comparison between France, whose Muslim community is mostly North African, and Germany, whose Muslim community is mostly Turkish, makes this case. The heavily disenfranchised North African Muslim community in France is the hotbed of radical Islam in the EU. Meanwhile, though the Turks in Germany are not quite fully assimilated into mainstream society, fundamentalist Islam has failed to take roots among them.

Another concern that feeds opposition to Turkish membership is a fear that this will bring Europe closer to the turmoil of the Middle East. The fact is the EU will become a true actor in Middle East politics, and have a say in shaping the peace, only after it takes in a country from that region. Another benefit of Turkey's accession is that this would give the EU access to the rich energy resources in the Middle East, Caucasus and Central Asia. Without Turkey, the EU is at best a regional club. With Turkey, it is in the running to become a powerful global player.

For sure, many Europeans will continue to have difficulty in seeing the strategic wisdom of Turkey's membership. After all, most Europeans would rather stay away from the Middle East, but the fact is that sooner or later Europeans will need to take a closer look at their Middle Eastern neighbors. Birthrates are so low in Europe that the EU population, currently at 455 million, will shrink by at least 25 million by 2023. What is worse, the EU will age dramatically: in 2023 nearly one third of Europeans will be dependant population over 65, siphoning off funds from European welfare states. On the other hand the Turkish population, which is at 70 million today, will jump to 97 million in 2023. More importantly, this will be a young population, with a low dependency rate of 10-15 percent.

Turkey's membership is the panacea for Europe's demographic demise and the impending failure of the famed welfare states. It is also Europe's best investment in "western Islam." The sooner the Europeans come to these conclusions, the easier it will become for them to think about a European Turkey. Europe might well survive without Ankara, but with Turkey in its ranks, it has a chance to excel.- Published 4/11/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Soner Cagaptay is a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of "Islam, Secularism and Nationalism in Modern Turkey: Who Is a Turk?"

Under the radar
 Ghassan Khatib

The seemingly inexorable if slow process of Turkey joining the EU posits a number of interesting scenarios for European relations with the Middle East, though in some cases the effect is overstated.

First is the question of religious identity. Europe already has a large number of Muslim citizens, that are more or less integrated into the various countries of the union, but only with the entry of a Muslim country does Europe truly break free of its Christian, even if secular, identity. The ramifications for Europe's relations with the Muslim world in general could be vast. The EU will be able to present itself as a truly inclusive union that can function both as a partner to the Muslim world, and as an example of (hopefully) successful co-existence across civilizations. In this context, it would also snub its nose at the American neo-conservative belief that different civilizations should necessarily be in conflict.

Then there is the economy. The Middle East is sometimes seen as Europe's backyard, and with Turkey's entry this would truly be the case. Europe would suddenly border Syria, Iraq and Iran, and the incentive for the EU to involve itself dramatically in the economic development of these countries to ensure stability and prosperity would soar. The Middle East remains a consumer market, and Europe would be bound to want to take advantage of this. Thus it would need to ensure that the purchasing power of Middle Eastern countries remain high and ditto the incentive to spend, i.e. political stability.

This is a two-way street. Iran, Iraq and Syria might be the more immediate beneficiaries of having such a vast market right next to them, and the possibilities that are opened up could have their effect on these countries internally as they seek to take advantage. Further afield the effect should also be felt, as Jordan, Lebanon, Egypt and the countries across North Africa, each with its own separate ties to Europe, as well as the Gulf countries, already the most important suppliers to the European oil market, jockey to make the most of it.

This leaves only the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. The EU has been successfully sidelined by Israel, which seeks only the involvement of the US, safe in the knowledge that America is willing to accept an Israeli line on the conflict. Here, it is not so clear that an EU with Turkey will make much of a difference. Turkey and Israel already have strong ties, though those ties may become less important to Turkey with membership, thus lessening their regional strategic relevance.

But Turkey is not an Arab state, and, while always publicly supportive of the Palestinian cause, has never thrown too much of its weight behind it. In addition, it is not clear to what extent Turkey can, or will want to, pursue a foreign policy independent of the EU's, where it will be just one voice among many, and by no stretch of the imagination a major one.

In one respect, however, Turkish membership might provide an example. EU membership should lessen tensions over Cyprus, where strongly drawn nationalist lines will be blurred by open commercial borders, no restrictions on the movement of labor and fewer bureaucratic structural differences. This could point a way forward.

In addition, a strengthened Muslim voice within the EU could force a more united and determined stance vis--vis the conflict, while the need to get the region on a path of stability and progress should focus attention on what remains one of the fundamental problems here.

Broadly speaking, Turkish EU membership should have many advantages for Turkey, the EU and the Middle East in general, though it remains less clear what positive effect this might have for Palestinians, and thus for Israelis.- Published 1/11/2004 (c) bitterlemons.org

Ghassan Khatib is coeditor of the bitterlemons family of internet publications and director of the Government Media Center. This article represents his personal views.

Ramifications for the Middle East and Islam
 Eberhard Rhein

What will Turkish EU membership mean for the Middle East and Islam? The spontaneous answer to this query is: "Nothing, or not much". Turkey will become an EU member country at the earliest by 2023; and then Turkey's impact on EU foreign policy decisions will be limited. It will just have one voice among 30 countries, some of which, like France, the UK and Germany, have a long-standing role in the Middle East.

But let us take a closer look.

It appears very likely that, at their meeting on December 17, European heads of government will decide to open formal negotiations with Turkey with a view to membership. These negotiations will last for several years. Whatever their final outcome, they will bring Turkey closer to the European mainstream. Turkey will adopt European regulations and practices in many sensitive policy areas, from home and justice affairs to economic and social policy. It will demonstrate that democracy, the rule of law and personal freedom are perfectly compatible with Islam.

The reform process in Turkey will influence public opinion in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran and the GCC countries. It would, of course, be naive to believe that the Turkish example will, all of a sudden, transform the Middle East into a region of modernity. Turkey is already the most modern and democratic Muslim country in the region, without this having had any noticeable impact on its neighbors. But membership talks will project Turkey more often into the Arab media. Arab journalists will write more frequently on what is going on in Turkey and make comparisons with the Arab world. Turkey is also likely to attract more foreign direct investments and to develop economically more rapidly than most of its Arab neighbors.

Thus the very fact of entering into membership talks with the EU will make Turkey a more attractive country for the Arab world to watch and even to learn from. This would by itself be a welcome by-product of the negotiation process and the many reform steps that Turkey undertakes during the coming 10 years.

Membership negotiations will also have an important bearing on EU and Turkish relations with the Middle East. Turkey will align increasingly with EU positions toward the ME. The two sides will regularly consult on all issues arising in the region. The EU will be keen to obtain intelligence and assessment from Turkish diplomats and vice-versa. Turkey will join the EU voting pattern in the UN. It will closely follow EU involvement with Iran, the GCC, Iraq and the Mediterranean riparian countries, with which the EU has concluded association agreements.

Such joining of hands will strengthen both the EU and Turkey in their relations with the region, and the countries in the Middle East, including Israel, will anticipate joint EU/Turkish cooperation/initiatives long before Turkey legally enters the EU, and take this into account in their strategic thinking. This may apply to such sensitive areas as energy security. The EU will certainly look upon any future gas or oil pipelines passing through Turkey as a positive contribution to its own security of supply.

What then will change for EU relations with the Middle East if Turkey is a member country by the middle of the next decade?

Basically only one thing: direct neighborhood. The EU external borders will extend 1000 km farther east than presently (Cyprus). Geographically the EU will become part of the Middle East, sharing borders with three main players of the region, Syria, Iraq and Iran. This geographic shift is bound to have an impact on future EU relations with the region. Strategically the EU will become even better positioned than the US. Direct neighborhood creates problems and offers opportunities. If Mexico were situated at the southern end of Central America it would never have attracted so much attention from the US! Why should not Iraq or Iran call more often on the EU to help them resolve their problems?

It therefore seems safe to predict that the EU will become even more involved in Middle East issues than with Turkish EU membership than without it. If the EU has the desire and the political will, it might replace the US as the most influential power in the region.

According to the newly signed EU constitution, "the Union shall develop a special relationship with neighboring countries to establish an area of prosperity and good neighborliness" (Article I-57). With Turkey becoming an EU member these provisions will apply to countries in the Middle East and not only to the neighbors around the Mediterranean. And Turkey will, in its own interest, insist on the EU developing such a relationship, possibly even ahead of formal membership.

In conclusion, Turkey's EU membership will make a difference for future European relations with the Middle East. The EU will have to focus even more on that sensitive region. Turkey will prove an asset for the EU in pursuing a course of closer relations. It will, after all, become the dominant power in the region, by virtue of its demographic, economic and political weight. This aspect constitutes no doubt one of the underlying motives for those diplomats and statesmen in the union who plead the cause of Turkish membership.

As the prospects for membership solidify, countries in the region will anticipate their outcome and accelerate the trend toward closer links. Thus the simple opening of negotiations for membership is likely to have a positive impact on Europe's relations with the Middle East.- Published 4/11/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Eberhard Rhein is a senior policy advisor at the European Policy Centre, Brussels. During 1984-96 he was in charge of the Middle East at the European Commission.

Securing Turkey for secularism and democracy
 Philip Robins

Last month a foreign ministerial summit was scheduled to take place in Istanbul, bringing together representatives of the European Union and the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC). The event, the second of its kind, was to be a symbol of harmony and understanding, and a rejection of the clash of civilizations thesis. In this venture Turkey was to play the role of host and convener, at last plausible in its oft-claimed role as a bridge between two worlds.

This conception of Turkey as a country that straddles, that is both Muslim and democratic, lay behind another move in October, the decision of the European Commission to recommend that accession negotiations begin with Ankara. That recommendation is expected to be confirmed by a full EU summit in mid-December.
Sure, there will be strings of liberal conditionality attached. But these are intended to ensure that there is no backsliding. The prospect of EU membership after 10-15 years is designed to secure Turkey for secularism and liberal democracy in the way that the southern enlargement of the late 1970s guaranteed civilian democracy in Greece, Portugal and Spain.

>From the European side, a raft of easy assumptions accompanies this process of binding Turkey closer to the EU. A commitment to enlargement that embraces a predominantly Muslim country is seen as a signal to the EU's ten million or so Muslim citizens that European values of liberal humanism are blind as far as cultural background and religious faith are concerned. In short, that there is no barrier to their enjoyment of full rights.

Externally, Europe's Turcophiles assume that Ankara's convergence with the EU will send out a powerful signal to its Mediterranean neighbors that the union is flexible and enlightened enough to offer the prospect of genuine partnership. Whether in the area of free trade, democratic reform or human rights, the EU will be able to pursue such objectives without facing charges of a hidden agenda of neo-colonialism or of seeking to subvert indigenous value systems.

While all of these conceptions may make the Europeans feel good about themselves, the importance of which should not be under-estimated, whether they will shake down in such a smooth way is debatable. The ambivalent feelings of Europe's Muslims are more likely to be reflected in Turkey than to be allayed by its closer ties, especially over such potentially combustible issues as the right of women to wear headscarves in schools and colleges.

In the political geography of EU foreign policy, Turkey is likely to be an active and strident advocate of its own interests in the Middle East, rather than a supporter of the bland platitudes favored but weakly pursued by Europe's majority. In the same way that Spain has led on the EU's relations with Latin America, and France on policy toward North Africa, so Turkey will demand to make the running on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and, at least to some extent, Israeli-Palestinian relations.

What will be the defining character of this Turkish policy toward the Middle East in a decade's time? Most likely the pursuit of economic self-interest, as the motor of the Turkish economy begins at last to fire on all cylinders in the wake of the transformation being engineered by the IMF. For Turkey it is more likely to be the large markets of its Muslim neighbors that prove to be attractive rather than proselytizing on behalf of liberal democracy.

All of this, of course, presupposes that the long frustration of ten or more years to attain EU membership does not prove too much for the prickly dignity of the Turks. While convergence is certainly more likely than divergence, it is not inevitable. With agreement on the desirability of membership now extending to the post-Islamist government, the moderates in the military and the centre left of the political spectrum, in all arguably some 70 percent of the population, there is no mainstream opposition left to the union. So any faltering in the EU membership process will likely result in a backlash from which only ultra-nationalists, hard-line Islamists and xenophobic Kemalists can prosper.

While it can be argued that in the end Turkey is too firmly lodged within the EU's field of gravity for any other multilateral grouping to displace it, such creepy elements, with their talk of solidarity fronts with Iran and Russia, have the potential to create turmoil in the event of any future difficulties. After all, it should be pointed out that in the end the EU-OIC meeting in Istanbul last month did not take place, a casualty of an old fashioned diplomatic spat between the EU and Turkey over the formal status of the northern Cypriot delegation. With stubborn inflexibility consuming both sides, the noble goal of inter-civilizational solidarity was easily ignored.- Published 4/11/2004 (c) bitterlemons-international.org

Dr. Philip Robins is university lecturer in the Politics of the Middle East at the University of Oxford. He is also a fellow of St Antony's College. He is the author of "Between the EU and the Middle East: Turkish Foreign Policy under the AKP Government, 2023-2007 (ISPI, Milan)".

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