An excellent entry on Nanne’s blog reminded me I haven’t had a chance of making my views on Turkey known to the wider world yet. Surely the world wants to know, so here they are. In a sentence: I firmly believe Turkey should be allowed into the EU, as soon as possible, and without this ridiculous pantomime that’s on daily display between the Thames and the Bosphorus. If this doesn’t suffice, keep on reading.
First of all, it’s worth remembering that – no matter how much EUrocrats keep on reminding us that this is a political project – the EU’s real mantra was once spelled out with utter clarity by Clinton: it’s the economy, stupid. And with an ageing polulation and pitiful growth rates, the exclusive members-only club for super-rich risks turning into an old-people’s home, with fading wallpaper falling off the freezing rooms of the once-glorious building, because there ain’t enough money to pay Ivan’s hefty heating bill.
With a quarter of the population under 14 years of age, 9 % GDP growth in 2004 and inflation falling below 7.7% in 2005 – a 30-year low – Turkey would clearly bring to the EU the strength and dynamism that are so painfully missing at the heart of its economies these days. We would all benefit from an enlarged market, younger workforce and the strategic position of Turkey at the crossroads of the Eurasian transport and communication systems. For these reasons alone, Turkey should be allowed into the EU. After all, this is an economic union, and what really matters when it comes to accession is what the Finance Ministries – not the public – think. After all, I don’t recall any of us being asked whether we wanted Bulgaria in the club. So it’s settled, Turkey should be allowed in, n’est pas?
Not quite. I am told there is the Muslim issue. Apparently, Turkey’s religion, combined with its weak democratic traditions, is just too bitter a medicine to swallow for the sensitive member states’ palate (er… didn’t the entire Eastern Europe join straight after 40 years of Communism, which hardly classifies as democratic tradition?! Can’t compare, apparently…). Turkey could join the club provided it conforms to our standards and behavioural norms – as Margot Wallström is all too quick to remind us:
The EU cannot compromise on basic values. Turkey has made a lot of progress but still has much to do and I acknowledge that it will take time. The issues where Turkey needs to make more progress include freedom of expression and freedom of religion, economic and social rights, women‘s rights, trade union rights and civilian control of the military.
I’d be really interested to know why the Commissioner is being so strict about Turkey, while turning a blind eye to Poland’s disgusting homophobia or Italy’s unacceptable toxic mix of politics and media control. In fact, there’s hardly a member state that has its house in order when it comes to many of the above ‘freedoms’. Still, once you’re in entry rules don’t matter any more.
So why all the fuss? It really has to be about religion. Indeed, many have started expressing their fears that Europe might soon turn into a Christian club. There are already many disturbing signs of a vocal radicalisation of its Christian groupings and of a progressive marginalisation of its traditional secularism. As Damon Linker pointed out, Pope Ratzinger’s Regensburg lecture appeared primarily to challenge Islam, while it was in fact attacking the bastions of European secularism:
Read in light of Joseph Ratzinger’s ecclesiastical career, the Regensburg address looks less like an attack on Islam and more like an attack on secular Europe. Pope John Paul II often spoke of the new millennium as a “springtime of evangelization” – an age during which the Vatican would seek to win over skeptics around the world and especially in the secular West. In Regensburg, Benedict showed that he intends to continue John Paul’s effort to turn back the advance of secularism.
The strategy of demonizing the opponent so people won’t complain when their freedom is being curtailed is not infrequent in history, and is being used by EU politicians and commentators alike to back a return to a set of supposed ‘common values’, which we are all meant to conform to. Just what exactly these values should be, no one really knows, since Europe is as culturally diverse as it is linguistically, yet one thing seems to be above discussion: these values are clearly incompatible with Turkey’s Islamic identity.
Conversely, the alleged Islamization of Europe has now become a dominant discourse in many European capitals, and one which sends shivers down my spine, because I fear Christian fundamentalism far more than any other one. So far, Christian nations have in fact displayed a remarkable tendency to commit the worst crimes in history, from the 30 Years War to the Holocaust, via colonialism and Hiroshima. Muslim fundamentalism pales in comparison.
In conclusion, much more than Turkey’s entry is at stake here: Europe’s future secularism. The entry of Turkey would add an important counterbalance to those voices inside the EU which are ready to take advantage of the heightened tensions between the West and Islam to push their Christian agendas forward. While Turkey’s relationship with Islam is at present more or less as (un)healthy as Italy’s with Catholicism, a suspension of its accession would have far more serious consequences:
In its short-sightedness, the EU risks creating the very thing it purports to fear: a Turkey orientated towards Mecca rather than Brussels; a spurned, snarling state on its doorstep.
Most importantly, Turkey’s rejection would reinforce those inside the EU who truly think this should be an exclusive Christian club. We would all end up by paying a heavy price for this mistake.