Friday, October 29, 2010

Turkey in EU?

There is a lot of heated debate whenever we discuss Turkey's entry in the EU. What are the real issues behind Europe's reluctance in allowing Turkey to join?

Islam and it's large population are two of the obvious reasons, Greece and the Cyprus issue, but also the lack of freedom of the press, minority issues and the very powerful military elite of the country are also serious issues.

I myself consider Turkey a European nation. For centuries Greeks, Romans and other European nations roamed the region that today is called Turkey and Turkey's flirt with Europe started since the days of the Ottoman Empire. Culturally they are very close to us Greeks, since our ancestors belonged in the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, living side by side with what today is the Turkish population for centuries.

Islam as a religion is not an issue for most Europeans, since we are more and more an agnostic breed of people. Besides Turkey is a secular country and extremist Islamic movements are not as present as in other Muslim countries.

The real problem that Europeans have with Turkey's EU membership related to Islam, is the growing Muslim population in Europe. Many Europeans fear that Turkey's EU entry will bring more Muslim immigrants into their countries and will contribute to a radical change in Europe's demographics. So that in the future the European population will see its native Christian population shrink. And with it, the European values, culture and way of thinking.

But Turkey has already a lot of these European values and way of thinking. It is not fare to categorize every Muslim country the same, as they are all so different from each other. Besides, from what we have seen so far from the case of  states like Poland, Romania and Bulgaria, immigration from these countries was not always as large or permanent as feared.

Many migrated for some years to western European states to work and make a lump-some, before returning back to their countries. Turkey's economy is doing rather well, better than many other EU Candidate Member States. Will the Turks flood Europe en mass once they join? Surely we will see more immigrants from Anatolia for a while, but if we curve immigration from other Muslim states, it can be balanced.

The full support of USA and the UK for Turkey's entry in EU is a thing that makes me a skeptic though. If the Americans and the British want it so badly, it can't be that good for the rest of Europe. They emphasize on what a great asset Turkey will be for our economies and the European Market. But does this translate as something necessarily good for the ordinary citizens?

The European Project should be something more than a huge Market and an economic experiment. Can Turkey offer solutions to European integration, do they have anything new to offer apart from what the Americans are advising us for?

Another issue of course the shift of power within EU. Why is Britain so keen for Turkey to join, while the Germans and the French are not? Turkey has a huge population and growing. If they join the voting power will shift. Especially if the Turks form with the Brits a similar Axis like that of the Franco-Germans, the EU could be transformed in what the British and Americans desire it to be.

Just a free trade market, not a political or a military union. I guess that is why Germany and France are not so keen and I do not believe that the Islam is the main issue, rather a secondary one. And I totally understand Germany's and France's fears and reluctance.

The only positive argument I find here, is the Turkish workforce that we may need. They are young, educated, numerous and hard working. I would much prefer to have immigrants from Turkey, a secular Muslim state, than Pakistan or Afghanistan in my country.

A major thorn in Turkey's EU accession is of course the attitude of the Turkish elite towards Greece, Cyprus and other Balkan states. Sadly there can be no favorable solution for them on the Cyprus issue, if they continue with their current policies. If they want accession, they will have to recognize the Republic and allow the Greek and Turkish Cypriot sides in reaching a compromise themselves. It should be the EU actually that must get more involved and play its role in reaching an agreement between the two sides.

As for Greece, Turkey's entry in the EU can be most favorable. Both nations suffer from having to invest heavily in their military budget in order to "protect" from each other. Two allied NATO nations that must protect from each other, how odd is that? But once Turkey joins, a war between them will be unthinkable, just as it is for Germany and France. Their economies will be so entwined and people will once again be able to move freely across the borders.

The Greeks will be able to resettle in cities like Istanbul and Izmir and the Turks in Crete and Thessaloniki, beginning a new era in the two countries' relationship. For sure they won't pose a threat to each other anymore, something that NATO membership has failed to achieve.

But can Europe "digest" Turkey? While they have a growing and promising economy, the western tip of the country is as European as the rest of the Balkans, but the eastern tip is way behind the rest of the country. In large parts it is controlled by separatist groups in the Kurdish region. It will take ages to bring the two sides of the country in the same level.

With the current economic crisis Europe has so many other things to work on, so Turkey is left out in the cold. Many predict that the Turks might get fed up and turn their back to Europe and that they will try to form alliances in the Middle East. Well I doubt if they are gonna turn to Iran, if they want to stay allies with America. They have neighbors like Armenia Georgia and Syria, nations not as friendly to them.

And the Middle East as a region is fragmented as well between pro and anti American sides. Could Turkey gain their trust and manage to unite them all? Especially since the Arabs do not have the best view of the Turks, and the Turks do not see themselves as Arabs. There is also the Kurdish problem. A challenging task indeed.

The "bridge between East and West" argument translates to me in "Oil Pipes from Caucasus" and their control. Turkey has a great strategic location. Europe needs oil. We are desperate to secure more sources of it and perhaps be less dependent in countries like Russia that have a hold on us, or any other less stable states from the Middle East and Africa. But can Turkey offer us that?

Wouldn't it be more preferable, instead of playing such dangerous geopolitical games in the region, to invest in a greener, energy efficient European economy?If we want to find a solution to our energy needs, perhaps meddling in the Middle East and its nations' affairs, is not the way forward. And so perhaps that is not the reason that Turkey should join the EU.

Of course major reforms must take place in the Turkish society before they can join. Their military elite must be weakened and overall they must become less authoritarian and more trusting towards their neighbors and Europe. The reforms that the EU has asked for must continue, especially those considering the freedom of press and certain minorities. They really need a minor social revolution, in order to change some issues that Europe is skeptical about, in their own time and gradually.

Overall I think this saga will continue for decades to come and loads of things can change during this time. Even Turkey. I hope they join one day, but not for the Markets or the oil that they have to offer Europe. If they join to be committed to Europe and the vision of an independent, prosperous, stable and federal continent, with common strategies and policies in the military and financial spheres, then they got my vote. Good Luck!

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