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Dispute: Turkey Joining the EU
Cédric Housez
Réseau Voltaire

On the eve of the European Commission’s study of Turkey’s candidacy for the European Union, Réseau Voltaire synthesizes the different arguments and examines their pertinence. In their attempts to convince, both partisans and adversaries do not hesitate to recuperate widespread anachronisms and prejudices. They privilege questions of identity over strategic analyses of which they sometime ignore the stakes. A recapitulation of motives and ulterior motives.

Ever since the former chairman of the European Commission Romano Prodi made public his report on Turkey’s membership on October 6, 2004, offering a response that he characterized as “positive but prudent”, the debate over Turkish membership has developed in the countries of the European Union. Before, the question was regularly discussed in the US, in Israel, and, obviously, in Turkey itself, but the European countries seemed little concerned in spite of frequent appeals from the Turkish government.

In revenge, since the publication the debate is raging, especially in France and Germany, the founding States of the EU.

Partisans as well as opponents of the opening of negotiations for Turkish membership in the EU have developed their arguments around different points that we will try and analyse in a rational way.

A Country Largely Muslim in the Context of the “Clash of Civilizations”

The most obvious prejudice in the debate is expressed in the following question: can a society that is in the majority Muslim be democratic and secular? This question would certainly be shocking if it were to be applied to a society that was historically Christian, such as France, and we asked if it could be democratic and secular.

To start with, it is fitting to note than other than France and Portugal, the member States of the EU are confessional or ecumenical democracies, not secular democracies.

As well, it is fitting to ask in what way one religion is intrinsically more compatible than another with democracy. Remember than in a secular state, religious questions are part of the private sphere while political questions are part of the public sphere. In a system with such a strict separation, each person’s religious convictions must not interfere with the management of the polis – and this is as true for Christian democracies as for Muslim democracies.

Finally, it can be observed that the apprehension about Islam that is expressed about a large country such as Turkey is not applied to a small State such as Bosnie-Herzegovinie which no one dreams of throwing out of the Union.

The desire to base the EU on a supposed Christian identity appeared in the writings of European Christian-Democrats who held that the preamble of the European Constitution should make mention of it. It had been pushed by the Holy See via a multitude of initiatives.

The same protagonists are opposed to Turkey’s membership, but, due to “political correctness”, they avoid confronting the supposed insurmountable opposition between European Christianity and Turkish Islam head on.

However, the general tendency does not preclude exceptions. So we see a collective of UMP deputies [1] adopting a much more aggressive tone to exhort President Jacques Chirac to refuse to open negotiations with Turkey at the European Summit beginning December 17, 2004. Picking up the traditional argument of the opponents to Turkish membership that says Turkey is not part of Europe, they accompany this remark with the expression of a mistrust of Islam. For them, the entry of Turkey is nothing less than “the final avatar of the conquest of the Eastern Roman Empire, Turkey no longer seeks to overthrow the Western Empire, but rather seeks to penetrate it with the benediction of the Cassandra of the European Commission.” The authors estimate that if the Islamists of the AKP want a rapprochement with the European Union, it is because they are conditioned by a lessening of the influence of the military, “the only ones that prevent this country from falling into a radical Islam”.

Carried on by their emotions, these authors arrive at defending European democracy, which is according to them threatened by Turkish Islam, by advocating the reestablishment of a military dictatorship in Turkey.

Such a frontal attack is nonetheless the exception. What is generally put forward by the opponents of Turkish membership is a vague geographic-cultural dimension of which they refuse to define precisely the spiritual contours and the geographic borders (especially in the East). The former French Minister of European Affairs and current Eurodeputy of the UMP, Alain Lamassoure [2] was the first to reason this way in the French press (even if by way of interviews personalities such as Valéry Giscard d’Estaing had denounced an eventual Turkish membership). On this basis, UDF deputies Hervé Morin, Michel Mercier and Marielle d eSarnez [3] later developed an argument mixing the geographical-cultural discourse with institutional preoccupations: by expanding indefinitely, the European Union would become unmanageable and it would no longer be possible to favour internal integration. A Europe forever extending itself would be a Europe in continual dissolution that would be reduced to a free-trade zone, incapable of competing politically tomorrow with the United States and China. They therefore demand that the impassable borders of the European Union be the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Bosphore all the while recommending, with Mr. Lamassoure, a partnership with Turkey.

The objection could be judged convincing as well as appropriate: we hazard a guess as to why it being raised at this moment, regarding this candidacy, and not before, such as in the case of Catholic Poland for example.

In the face of these delaying procedures, rare are those who recall, such as Luc Ferry [4], that the construction of a common space must be based upon a desire to “live together”, upon a rule of law, and upon democratic criteria – in brief, upon the anti-communitarian ideal of the Rights of Man. In fact, the communitarian dimension is equally central among the partisans of Turkish membership: it is because Turkey is a Muslim country that the European Union has an interest in integrating it. Michel Rocard [5] denounces thus the logic that says that Turkey should not be accepted in Europe in the name of Christian identity and because of cohesion. On the contrary, this would be a good way to avoid the “clash of civilisations”. In a widely distributed text, former Greek Foreign Minister, George A. Papandreou [6] picks up this argument, in taking as example the policy that he conducted in Greece, and insists on going beyond the ancestral opposition between the two countries, in order to send a positive signal to the Muslim world.

The commentators here neglect the problem of Cyrus, the partition of which island incarnates the persistence of the historic tensions between the Hellenic and Turkish worlds. They don’t discuss the rejection by Greek Cypriots of the Annan plan for the reunification of the island last April 24, implicitly considering that this question will find its natural solution when we have the political will to do so.

The Anglo-Saxon and Israeli press underscore, for their part, that Turkey – a “moderate Islamic” country – is the best placed to wage the fight against Islamic terrorism. It can serve as a bridge between cultures and permit us to avoid the “clash of civilisations”. Let’s recall here that this notion of the “war of civilisations” does not describe an objective aggressiveness on the part of Muslim populations, but was theorised within the National Security Council of the United States to stigmatise a colonial target. In the past and even recently, the West represented dogmatism and Islam tolerance. It is only since September 11, 2001 that United States’ public relations imposed an assimilation between Islam and hatred, between Islam and terrorism, substituting a new fear for that of communism after the collapse of the USSR.

The idea of a moderate Muslim state opposed to the Islamists, which at first glance can seem worthy, in fact introduces into the European debate, and reformulating it to the circumstances, the poison of an irreducible and murderous opposition between the East and West.

Thus, an author of the public relations firm Benador Associates, Amir Taheri, rejoiced in Gulf News that a possible Turkish membership would be a stabilising factor in the region and would create a link between Europe and Islam [7]. This argument was particularly stressed in commentaries on the Ankara attacks in November 2003. Authors, such as the former director of political planning for the State Department, Henri J. Barkey [8] or CIA collaborator Shlomo Avineri [9] estimated that the attacks would push Turkey naturally towards the “West” in the war on terrorism and that in these conditions, the membership of Turkey would be of a pair [10]. Nevertheless, certain rare analysts, such as Zeyno Baran and Andrew Apostolou [11], expressed their worry that these attacks would lead to a hardening of anti-terrorist measures incompatible with membership criteria in Europe.

This argument of the “clash of civilisations” is so present in the Western mass media that Turkish leaders decided to respond by presenting their religious culture as a benefit, even if their country is secular. Picking up the declarations of George W. Bush, Recep Tayyip Erdogan declared in an interview given to journalists of the Washington Post during the summit in Davos in January 2004 [12] that it was precisely because Turkey was the symbol of the coexistence possible between Islam and democracy that it was attacked. During the interview he did however distance himself from US propaganda by declaring that the suspects arrested did not belong to al Qaeda. Before him, the former Turkish Minister of the Economy, Kermal Dervis, had taken up the theses of Samuel Huntington about Turkey, a country torn between East and West, affirming that by striking Turkey, the terrorists demonstrated that they had understood the world-important character of the “struggle for the Turkish soul” [13]. He called upon European leaders therefore to not reject Turkey and so feed the confrontation “prophesised” by Huntington.

Turkey, the USA’s Trojan Horse or Regional Stabiliser?

Turkey’s historic links with the United States permit the opponents of Turkish membership to argue that its arrival is a US Trojan Horse in the European Union, but it is rare that they make of this a central element. Thus, Robert Badinter [14], in a text where he denounces principally the denial of democracy represented by the absence of vote in Parliament on the opening of negotiations with Turkey, raises the idea that the support of Washington for Turkish membership could be the means to prevent the emergence of a strong Europe. Arguing the contrary, this reaction was denounced by Dominique Moisi [15]. According to him, belief in an American plot was simply the sign that Europe wasn’t ready to accept a Muslim country.

Those favourable to membership stress that Turkish links with the US and Israel will lead to membership being a factor for stability in the Near East. Turkey, once in the EU, could even serve as mediator in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and contribute to stability in the Caucasus.

Remember that on the strategic level, Turkish membership is an old wish of Washington who wishes to see the future large transatlantic market superimposed on NATO. Seen from the Pentagon, Ankara was in the hands of a devoted military and the rest didn’t matter. Tel-Aviv, who maintained privileged relations with the Turkish military, also hoped to have a turn at sliding at foot into the EU.

For the former counsellor of Ehud Barak, Alon Liel [16], Turkey represents a good thing for Europe because, other than the fact that is has a young population that is sorely needed on the old continent, Europe would gain a geostrategic penetration into the Middle East and a strong army. According to him, this would have as the consequence of making Brussels as important as Washington in the region. He estimates that such a situation would turn Turkey away from Israel and the US, but that these two countries would win in the end due to the stabilisation of the region.

It seems that this analysis is still in vigour in decision-making circles in the US and that this is why Washington is pushing so hard for Turkish entry into the EU. But this policy appears to be the heritage of old conceptions badly adapted to the evolution of the moment. Once Turkey is in the Union, links between Ankarra and the United States and Israel might weaken, especially as Turkey has already changed.

Over the years, NATO could depend upon the Turkish military regime, and upon this same military in the shadow of a weak civil power. During that epoch, Turkey was an ally of Israel in the face of an Arab world. But everything has changed in the last two years. The United States has invaded Iraq and installed there a permanent force of 140,000 men. The Turkish people opposed this invasion and, in a democratic act that could stand as an example to the West, the Turkish Parliament forbade the US from using NATO bases on its territory to commit its crimes. The Pentagon was obliged to modify its plan of attack and to delay the invasion by three weeks. The Turkish military respected the decision of the civil power.

As well, the United States gave complete autonomy to Iraqi Kurdistan and is guiding it towards independence – putting into peril the territorial integrity of Turkey, Syria, and Iran. Therefore the Turkish command gave its support to the civilian power and Ankarra drew closer to Teheran and Damas. Today, Turkey wishes to enter into the EU and participate in the formation of a European army to break out of the too tightly closed circle of Washington and Tel-Aviv. Those at the State Department who think they will be able to manipulate Turkey tomorrow as they have in the past are mistaken: they will not succeed as long as they occupy Iraq.

One of the few to perceive these changes and to discuss them in the press was US analyst Ian Bremmer [17] who, while sharing the analysis of Liel on the positive character of this membership for Europe, wonders what Washington has to gain in this affair. Bremmer’s position is isolated in the debate: he thinks that Washington has no interest in watching a strong Europe established by welcoming Turkey…unless, he concludes, the objective of this support is in fact to push those who have dishonoured Washington towards the Europeans.

The Geostrategic Dimension and the Economy: The Almost Missing

We note that among the partisans as among the opponents of membership, the geostrategic dimension is marginalised, the economic dimension is almost totally absent, and the discourse focuses on the religico-ethnic question or the shock of civilisations, that is to say, the problematic put into place by the Bush Administration and that seems to have been completely integrated into the debate on the construction of Europe.

All these arguments seem to be constructed upon a vision of the European Union as a factor of economic growth and enrichment, able to solidly join Turkey to the “West”, but not as a political entity capable of having a foreign policy and an autonomous security, that is to say, independent. Even the Turks don’t put forward this element. Thus, even if they serve as an objective benefit of Turkish candidacy, Turkish military power and the possibility of developing a European defence if it becomes a member of the EU are rarely evoked. This last point is only sketched out in an article by Abdullan Gül in the International Herald Tribune in December 2003 [18], shortly before he passed the reigns of government to Mr. Erdogan and took over the post of Minister of Foreign Affairs.

On economic questions, we note that, contrary to other recently admitted countries, Turkey already fulfils the Copenhagen criteria. This does not, however, resolve the problems caused by the difference of its economic development with the EU. Note also that the integration of Spain and Portugal was a motor for development in these two countries. However, this may only have been realised due to a system of redistribution of riches with the Union that has been questioned with its expansion to twenty-five. This question is, therefore, not specific to Turkey alone, but, once again, to the political choices within Europe.

If Turkey enters into the EU – which, given the length of negotiations, wouldn’t happen for another ten to fifteen years, as was pointed out by Ambassador Jean-Daniel Tordjman [19] – it would likely become a pivotal state. First, it would be the member with the second largest population, which would give it a particular weight because of the weighing of votes in function of population. But, above all, it would offer to Europe a penetration into the Near East and a strong army that would take part in the common defence.

In the past, Turkey wanted to use its Muslim culture to turn towards the Arab States but has suffered through their refusal. That is why Jacques Chirac underlined that the question is not whether or not to exclude Turkey, but to decide if we prefer this inside or outside of the Union. In the case of an exclusion from the Union, Turkey would have no other choice to avoid asphyxiation but to turn towards the Turkophone populations of Asia, destabilising all the States of the Silk Road. Inversely, its integration into the Union would make Turkey the meeting point between two worlds. This was in fact the strategy of the Sublime Door until the First World War.

Translated by Signs of the Times

[1] « La Turquie n'est tout simplement pas l'Europe », by a group of Parliamentarians
UMP, Le Figaro, 14 October 2004. Discussed in Voltaire, 15 October 2004.
Signers of this text : Philippe Pemezec is UMP députy UMP from Hauts-de-Seine ;
Roland Blum from Bouches-du-Rhône ; Bernard Brochand from Alpes-Maritimes ; Yves Burfrom Bas-Rhin ; Nicolas Dupont-Aignan from Essonne ; Marc Le Fur from Côtes-d'Armor ; Lionel Luca from Alpes-Maritimes ; Richard Mallie from Bouches-du-Rhône ; Thierry Mariani from Vaucluse ; Axel Poniatowski from Val-d'Oise ; Georges Siffredi from Hauts-de-Seine ; Jean-Sébastien Vialatte from Var.
[2] « Pourquoi la Turquie ne peut pas entrer dans l'Union », by Alain Lamassoure, Le
Figaro, 6 October 2004. Discussed in Voltaire, 6 October 2004.
[3] « Turquie : débattre et voter », by Hervé Morin, Michel Mercier and Marielle de
Sarnez, Le Figaro, 12 October 2004. Discussed in Voltaire, 13 October 2004.
[4] « Le "non" serait une colossale erreur », by Luc Ferry, Le Monde, 22 October 2004.
Discussed in Voltaire, 25 October 2004.
[5] « Ne ressuscitons pas le rêve carolingien ! », by Michel Rocard, Le Figaro, 16
November 2004. Discussed in Voltaire, 17 November 2004.
[6] « Let the talks begin for Turkey's bid to join the European Union », by George
Papandreou, Taipei Times, 8 October 2004. Discussed in Voltaire du 11 October 2004.
[7] « Turkey enjoins Europe and Islam », by Amir Taheri, Gulf News, 5 October 2004.
Discussed in Voltaire, 6 October 2004.
[8] « Blasts Won't Shatter Turkey's Ties to West », by Henri J. Barkey, Los Angeles
Times, 30 November 2003. Discussed in Voltaire, 1 December 2003.
[9] « Have the bombers blundered ? », by Shlomo Avineri, Jerusalem Post, 25
November 2003. Discussed in Voltaire, 25 November 2003.
[10] Note that these two authors also defend the indepedence of Kurdistan from Iraq, which is rejected by Ankarra.
[11] « A new front in the war », By Zeyno Baran and Andrew Apostolou, Washington
Times, 11 December 2003. Discussed in Voltaire, 11 December 2003.
[12] « Democracy And Islam Can Coexist », by Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Washington Post,
26 January 2004. Discussed in Voltaire, 26 January 2004.
[13] « La Turquie et la fracture de civilisations », by Kemal Dervis, Le Figaro, 24
November 2003. Discussed in Voltaire, 24 November 2003.
[14] « Turquie : paroles, paroles… », by Robert Badinter, Le Monde, 22 October 2004.
Discussed in Voltaire, 25 October 2004.
[15] « Europe is not ready to swallow Turkey », by Dominique Moisi, International
Herald Tribune, 22 October 2004. Discussed in Voltaire, 25 October 2004.
[16] « Turkey will strengthen Europe », by Alon Liel, Ha'aretz, 5 October 2004. Discussed in Voltaire, 6 October 2004.
[17] « Would Turkey split the EU and the U.S.

Comment: There is an important global realignment going on. The world is waking up to the fact that Bush and his neocons will be in power for at least four more years. The future of Turkey appears to be an important part of this repositioning.

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