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The land of promise and danger at the EU's door

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  • The land of promise and danger at the EU's door

    The land of promise and danger at the EU's door
    by Michael Portillo

    The Sunday Times - Comment
    September 04, 2005

    Imagine if Turkey were ruled by an extremist Islamic regime hostile
    to the West. The country commands the entrance to the Black Sea. It
    protrudes into Europe and borders Bulgaria and Greece. Its troops
    occupy part of Cyprus, where Britain has bases. An explosion of Kurdish
    nationalism in Turkey could further destabilise Iraq. Strategically,
    the loss of Turkey to fundamentalism would be a serious blow. It is
    a question that should have troubled the 25 European Union foreign
    ministers meeting near Newport, Gwent, when their Turkish counterpart
    joined them on Friday to discuss accession to the Union.

    Look at it another way. Across the globe there are not many countries
    that have a Muslim majority and yet are secular and democratic. It
    is an extraordinary piece of luck for Europe that Kemal Ataturk was
    a visionary leader. When he founded the Turkish Republic in 1923 he
    insisted on the absolute separation of religion from the state.

    Turkey is pro-western. It joined Nato in 1952 and unlike most
    European members invests heavily in defence (admittedly because it
    is at daggers drawn with Greece). During the 1991 Gulf war, Turkey
    joined the coalition and Turkish airbases were used for years after
    by American and British warplanes enforcing the no-fly zones against
    Saddam Hussein.

    Turkey is a large country that occupies a strategic square on the
    global chessboard. It has frontiers with Syria, Iraq and Iran and
    the sensitive former Soviet states of Armenia and Georgia. If Turkey
    became a rogue state that nurtured and exported terror, it would
    be disastrous for Russia, America, Europe - and Israel. As it is,
    Turkey and Israel enjoy cordial relations.

    It is hardly surprising, then, that the United States advocates Turkish
    membership of the EU. Admittedly Washington was stung when Turkish
    parliamentarians (responding like good democrats to popular sentiment)
    refused to allow America to launch its 2003 war against Iraq from
    Turkey. But that underlines how bad things would be if Turkey slipped
    out of our orbit. To prevent that, reason the Americans, we need to
    underpin its democratic institutions by welcoming it into the EU.

    The EU normally trumpets its record on consolidating democracy. It
    is indeed its greatest achievement. Spain, Portugal, Greece and the
    members that were formerly Soviet slaves have not stumbled from the
    democratic path since being admitted to the EU. But in Turkey's case
    the EU is hesitant about extending the benefits of membership.

    Most EU leaders do not think much in strategic terms. They rely on
    America for defence (but criticise it for going to war). Having almost
    no military strength themselves and being essentially inward-looking,
    it is not easy for them to recognise that Turkey is a domino in
    the struggle between the West and Islamic extremism. Some European
    leaders would like the EU to replace Nato as the continent's main
    defence organisation so as to squeeze out the Americans. That thinking
    demonstrates that they see military alliances as social clubs for
    like-minded nations rather than as networks for winning wars.

    Indeed, if it were not for American pressure perhaps the EU would
    not consider admitting Turkey at all. Only a small part of it is in
    Europe, so there would be a good argument for drawing the line at our
    continental borders. Maybe we should give more thought to securing
    the entry of, say, Ukraine which is wholly in Europe.

    As usual, Tony Blair is the odd man out among EU leaders (and, as
    usual, in line with America). He said bringing Turkey into the fold
    would be "important for Europe and its security". Other prominent
    figures have cold feet. Angela Merkel, the German Christian Democrat
    leader, recently wrote to 11 EU leaders proposing Turkey be offered
    not full membership but a privileged partnership.

    By that she means that Turks would not be free to live anywhere in
    the EU. The problem, not often frankly articulated, is that most
    Turks are Muslims. Germany's enormous Turkish population is not well
    assimilated. The idea that 70m Turks would gain the right to move
    freely in the EU horrifies many German voters and Merkel is fighting an
    election. President Chirac of France thinks he lost the referendum on
    the EU constitution because of protest votes against Turkish accession.

    For the time being Germany and France have a pretext for stalling.
    Turkey does not recognise the government of Cyprus (though by a
    cunning diplomatic nicety it does now recognise Cyprus as an EU
    member). Turkey complains that the goalposts keep moving, but in any
    case it has been willing to make most of the changes demanded by the
    EU, so in due course it will probably fall into line on the Cyprus
    point too. The EU will have used up one more excuse.

    Merkel's idea is clever, but it will not work because under German
    and French leadership the EU has been turned into the only club that
    countries want to join. We used to have an alphabet spaghetti soup
    of organisations so we could make every country feel "wanted". If it
    were not a candidate for the EU it could be allowed into the Western
    European Union or the Council of Europe or the Organisation for
    Security and Co-operation in Europe. Only a Venn diagram could show
    which countries belonged to what. It was untidy and it worked well.

    Of course the Germans insisted on tidying Europe up and the French
    wanted the EU to supplant everything else. So now countries will not
    be fobbed off with lesser memberships. Even belonging to Nato counts
    for little today since neither the Americans nor Europeans seem to
    give a toss for it. So either we admit Turkey or Turkey will be angry.

    The consequences of rejection could be grave. Secularism does not look
    secure there. In 1997 the Turkish army intervened in Ankara to remove
    an Islamist government. Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the prime minister,
    was once imprisoned for Islamist sedition after reading an Islamist
    poem at a rally. The constitution had to be changed to allow him into
    parliament. He heads an Islamist-based party, although he says that
    he is committed to secularism. Entering the EU is his priority. How
    volatile might Turkey become if his hope of entry were extinguished?
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