Turkey’s battle to join the EU avril 24, 2012Posted by Acturca in Turquie, Turquie-UE, UE.
Tags: EU, Isabelle Calleja, Malta, Turkey, Turkey-EU, Turquie, UE
The Times (Malta) Tuesday, April 24, 2012, p. 1-7
by Kurt Sansone
Turkey’s attempt to join the EU has stalled at the negotiation stage. Kurt Sansone tries to understand the difficulties between the country ‘where the sun sets’ and Europe.
Tracing back the mythological origins of the word Europe is an unlikely political pitch to strengthen Turkey’s decades-old cause to join the EU.
But that is exactly what a Turkish government brochure championing the country’s cause tries to do.
Greek mythology speaks of Europa, a Phoenician princess, abducted from her home city on the Lebanese coast and taken to Crete by a tame white bull while she was gathering flowers.
The bull was Zeus, a mythical god, seduced by Europa’s beauty. She became the first queen of Crete and eventually lent her name to the continent later known as Europe.
Europa means “where the sun sets” and the Turkish government brochure latches on to the ancient understanding that this referred to the plains of Anatolia, today’s Turkey.
The myth becomes significant in the context of a debate in Europe that sometimes questions Turkey’s cultural adequacy to join the EU.
"The EU has long been politically committed to let Turkey join"
In the latest round of criticism on Turkey’s EU accession bid, Nationalist MP Jeffrey Pullicino Orlando used the cultural argument to justify his opposition.
He may have been the only Maltese politician to publicly oppose Turkey’s EU bid, but in Europe he is not alone. French President Nicolas Sarkozy is also opposed for the same reasons and so are other prominent politicians.
But tracing a dividing line between Turkey and Europe on cultural grounds is not a straightforward matter, if at all possible.
According to Isabelle Calleja, head of the International Relations Department at the University, Turkey has always been a vital part of European history, culture and geography.
She argued a close relationship developed between the European empires and Turkey dating as far back as the mediaeval period. “Turkish influence on the practices of European nations including dress, art and cuisine were in evidence and Turkey formed part of the political, military and international network of Europe.”
Turkey was also influenced by the institutional, legal, secular and political practices of European states, Dr Calleja added.
There are far more serious political issues such as respect for human rights and the Cyprus problem that pose a stumbling block for Turkey’s EU accession, according to Alternattiva Demokratika foreign affairs spokesman Arnold Cassola.
He believes Turkey has every right to join the EU and it should not be treated any differently from other candidate countries.
“Obviously, Turkey has to adhere to the Copenhagen criteria on human and political rights but if the pending issues are resolved Turkey should have the possibility of joining,” Prof. Cassola said.
Turkey has long-standing problems linked to its mistreatment of minorities, especially the Kurds. Progress has been registered, including TV broadcasts in the Kurdish language and the Prime Minister’s apology to Kurds in 2005, according to Dr Calleja.
However, the reforms are far from complete, she added. “Over 100 journalists remain behind bars, corruption is rife and police continue to use excessive force against demonstrators.”
Turkey’s European Affairs Minister admitted his country’s record was not perfect but he also noted it was better than that of some member states.
He did not mention names but Dr Calleja said the EU’s most recent members, Romania and Bulgaria, experienced instances of prisoner mistreatment, Roma discrimination and police harassment.
Dr Calleja acknowledged the biggest concerns expressed by ordinary people about Turkey’s membership revolved around geographical and cultural arguments that also drew on religious differences.
This raised questions on the correlation between rising incidents of xenophobia in Europe and the anti-Turkish stance adopted by some EU national governments pandering to their voters, she added.
Turkey was accepted as a candidate country with which negotiations could start in 2004 and technical talks started a year later. But the process started almost 50 years earlier, according to Nationalist MEP Simon Busuttil.
The decision to allow Turkey to join was taken back in 1964, he said. “The EU has long been politically committed to let Turkey join and the cultural argument is now beside the point.”
Dr Busuttil believed Turkey should join the EU if it fulfilled all conditions associated with membership but the slow progression in negotiations suggested that “Turkey is still far away”. When Turkey concludes its talks the next big issue confronting the EU would be its size. The expansion of the EU from 17 states to 27, and next year to 28, in just eight years has been a relative success.
The decision-making process has continued to function smoothly despite the growing number of members, Dr Busuttil said, acknowledging though that Turkey’s “sheer size” would present a particular challenge.
With a population of 79.7 million, Turkey would be the second largest EU member state after Germany, making it an influential power broker in the bloc’s institutions.
Whether this concern will trump others in stopping Turkey’s membership bid in its tracks still has to be seen but according to Dr Calleja those advising against membership are “short sighted”.
She said Turkey was a regional power and key international relations player influential on three continents. It has a powerful economy which in terms of growth is second only to China and India and “a successful secular democracy with an Islamic religion admired by Middle Eastern and North African states”.
“In the long term Turkey will strengthen the union’s liberal and secular traditions, and further its shift towards a union of diversity,” she said.
It is unlikely that Europa’s myth will be enough to secure Turkey’s place in the EU but the Turkish government’s publicity brochure argues the country is the key to Europe’s future – an assertion based on the country’s young population, its relative wealth and strategic importance.
Whether sceptical Europeans will agree is another matter altogether.