Geographically Turkey is not a European state, apart from the tiny northwestern edge of the country. Last October, however, Turkey was elected for a two-year term in the United Nations security council by winning one of the two non-permanent seats set aside for European countries. While the other candidate, Austria, barely won the required two-thirds majority, Turkey won its seat hands down. In the UN, Turkey belongs to the regional group of the Western European and Others Group (WEOG).
Turkey, however, is a special case in the United Nations. It is the only country that participates as a full member in two regional groups. As it geographically belongs to Asia, Turkey is also a member of the Group of Asian States. And as an Islamic country Turkey is also a member – and a prominent one – of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) which includes all Islamic states from Senegal to Indonesia and which is also recognized by the UN.
As a consequence, Turkey eats from three different baskets, depending on whether it invokes its geographical position in Asia, its religious character or its European component. The peoples of Europe do not seem to regard Turkey as a European country. The general expectation is that if the governments of the European Union member states were to put it to a vote in a referendum the people of Europe would reject the admission of Turkey to the EU.
Four years ago, Brussels and Ankara started negotiations intended to lead to Turkey becoming an EU member. The issue is highly controversial because the economic and institutional consequences of Turkey’s admission will be far-reaching for the EU.
To raise Turkey to a European standard of living would require enormous and sustained efforts of wealth redistribution from the European taxpayers, which would impoverish Europe without a guarantee of success in Turkey. Moreover, if Turkey joins the EU, an additional 80 million people become EU citizens. As an EU member, Turkey will be the most populous member with the highest number of representatives in the European Parliament. In the European Council it will be on a par with the present Big Ones. Its foreign interests will dominate Europe’s. Turkey is too big for Europe to swallow.
What worries ordinary Europeans most, however, is that the 80 million potential additional EU citizens are Muslims. Does it serve the interests of the West if the largest member state of the EU is an Islamic country?
Some think it does. They believe that Turkish EU membership will turn the country into a democratic state and an example for other Muslim nations, and hence prove that Islam and democracy can be reconciled. But what if they are wrong? Many ordinary Europeans would rather play safe. However, that is not the attitude of the political establishment.
There are strong indications that the EU establishment in Brussels already considers Turkey to be a member of the European club in all but name. Turkish ministers are already allowed to participate in EU deliberations.
According to Pierre Lellouche, a parliamentarian of France’s governing party whom President Sarkozy has given the task of “relaunching Franco-Turkish relations,” Islamism will be defeated by bringing Turkey into Europe. “We have next door to us, a great secular Muslim country that wants to share our values. It is making the necessary reforms. We would be crazy to say no,” Mr Lellouche says.
He is, however, opposed to putting the matter of Turkey’s EU admission before the French electorate in a referendum because this is “to pollute the debate” with the fear of Islam. “Some play around with the fear factor: that is unworthy. Turkey is not Islamism or terrorism. Because of the fear of Islam and of Arabs, we are saying no for the wrong reasons.”
The question, however, is whether those who say yes to Turkey are not doing so for the wrong reason, namely to prove their point that Islam and democracy are compatible.
Why is it that, after 13 centuries of preserving European identity by opposing Muslim attempts to conquer Europe, some claim that Europe can only preserve its identity, its values and its freedoms by opening its doors to Turkey? Why can Turkey not remain free and democratic and “share our values” without becoming European? Is representative democracy only possible in Europe? Is secularism Europe’s only defining element?
Does it serve the interests of democracy and the West that the largest member state of the EU is an Islamic country, when ordinary Europeans oppose it? Is so, why should it not serve the interests of democracy and the West that Mexico becomes the largest member state of the USA? Does the religion of the Turks – even those of the secularized Muslims – matter to ordinary Europeans? Yes, it does. It matters as much as the language of the Hispanics matters to ordinary Americans. Only politicians intent on changing the nature of the peoples they were elected to represent do not care about such things.