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Turkey could be a beacon to the Islamic world: that’s why it must be admitted to the EU 3 septembre 2006

Posted by Acturca in Religion, Turkey / Turquie, Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

Sunday Telegraph (UK), 03/09/2006 

By Liam Fox *

‘Without Ataturk we would be just like Iran. » The words of one young politician I met recently in Ankara reflect the widespread sentiment held by many Turks. 

They believe that the foresight of the founding father of the modern Turkish state, Kemal Ataturk, created the conditions that allowed Turkey to develop as a democratic and secular country in stark contrast to some of its neighbours. In the areas of defence co-operation, human rights improvements and economic liberalisation, its development continues apace.

For many Turks, the logical end point to this drive to modernisation has always been membership of the European Union. Yet increasing numbers of Turkish citizens believe that key elements of the EU have no real intention of ever allowing Turkey to gain membership, and they ask themselves: « If we will never get in the club, why go through the pain of transition? » It is a question with enormous ramifications.

Last week, Turkey was back in the headlines with further terrorist crimes being carried out against a number of its tourist resorts. Like so many other countries, it is on the front line in the struggle against global terrorism. Dealing on the one hand with Kurdish separatist terrorists and on the other sharing a large land border with Iraq, it could hardly be otherwise.

How it responds to the challenges it faces politically and militarily has important implications. The questions we must ask in this country are: « How important is further development in Turkey? » And: « Does it matter to Britain? » The answer to both is a resounding « Yes ».

Let us just consider the military and geopolitical importance of Turkey in the modern world. A major player in Nato, Turkey’s half-million strong army is the second largest in the alliance after America’s, dwarfing the forces of Britain and France.

It has twice commanded the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) in Afghanistan and plays a large role in the country’s redevelopment (recently, in fact, announcing reinforcements there). One of the main reasons for my visit was to encourage the Turkish government to see whether it would be possible to deploy further helicopters to Afghanistan to prevent further overstretch of the British lift capability there.

Politically, Turkey is a bridge to the Islamic world. It shows that prosperity, democracy and security are possible in a constructive partnership with the developed world. If Turkey were part of the EU, it would be its eighth largest economy. Its constitution and educational system ensure women’s rights and that they play a full role in the economic and political life of the nation.

There are many in the fundamentalist shadows who believe such rights threaten the power and influence of the clerics and that the emancipation of women is incompatible with their interpretation of Islam. They would like nothing more than to push Turkey into reverse gear.

In terms of energy security, a subject on which I recently wrote for The Sunday Telegraph, Turkey is important for both oil pipelines and maritime transport. In 2001, 6,500 tankers carried 100 million tons of oil through the Bosphorus. By 2005, this had increased to 10,027 tankers carrying 143 million tons. As new oilfields are developed in the central Asian states, Turkey will become an ever more important transit and supply centre for our fuel needs.

A valued Nato partner, a secular state bridging Europe and the Islamic world, a developing economy, and a major player in the energy market: Ataturk would indeed have cause to be proud of his handiwork. But the smooth continuation of these trends is far from secure; it is a challenge to us all to ensure that nothing is done to hinder Turkey’s progress. For the direction of the country’s development is crucial to the Turks themselves, to those who seek enlightenment in the Islamic world, to the European Union… and beyond.

Those same Islamic extremists who seek to turn the clock back elsewhere — the Taliban in Afghanistan, suicide bombers in Britain — also threaten Turkey’s much-cherished secularism. For those who seek freedom, democracy and open society in the Islamic world without ditching any of its religious traditions, Turkey shows that Islam can live compatibly with constitutional law determined by democratic consensus.

For Europe, the admission of Turkey to the EU is the primary test of whether the union can adapt to a changing world or whether it will become an increasingly introspective and redundant body. For European politicians, rejecting Turkey carries the risk of pushing this vitally important country into the arms of the political and religious extremists.

Of course, there would be problems associated with Turkish accession, something most Turks understand. The questions of labour mobility recently brought into sharp focus by imminent Bulgarian and Romanian membership would need to be dealt with.

But there are those who object for different reasons. A senior French official complained to me last year that Turkish membership would mean that « we could never have a political Europe, only an economic one ». Stifling a « three cheers to that », I pointed out what a sadly dated view of the world this was. Even more disturbing was the deeply unpleasant undercurrent present during the French and Dutch referendums last year on the EU constitution, where anti-Turkish sentiment was never far from the surface and mixed with constitutional arguments.

What a tragedy it would be if xenophobic elements in continental Europe had the net result of producing a much more fundamentalist Islamic state on the eastern border of Greece rather than a democratic beacon shining outwards from Europe to those denied the basic freedoms and rights we take for granted. What a mistake of truly historic proportions it would be if, by placating all that is negative in European politics, those in authority delivered future generations into a much more dangerous and destabilised continent.

Turkey stands at the new military and political crossroads of the world. With Russia’s expanding militarism and resource nationalism threatening Western interests to the north, with the unstable and unpredictable nations of the Caucasus to the east, and with Iraq and the Gulf to the south, most Turks look west, to Europe, for stability and security. It would be both profoundly wrong and monumentally stupid to turn our back at this most dangerous time.

Britain has a proud tradition of championing the Turkish cause, under both Conservative and Labour governments. A staunch Nato ally in the region is certainly in the security interests of this country. But the future of Turkey has much wider implications. Here is a challenge for our generation, a test for our times. The decisions that we collectively reach now will reverberate for years to come and will profoundly affect the world in which we live.


* Liam Fox is Conservative MP for Woodspring and the shadow defence secretary


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