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Sarkozy is Wrong About Turkey | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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“I am no ideologue,” insists French President Nicolas Sarkozy at every opportunity. He was doing so the other evening during a 90-minute long live television exposé marking the first anniversary of his election victory. By saying he is no ideologue, the French leader tries to present himself as a pragmatic politician, open to argument and ready to admit errors. This was what he did during his TV marathon. On at least six occasions, referring to various aspects of his policies, he said: I admit

I made an error!

There was, however, one issue on which Sarkozy sounded like an ideologue: Turkey’s application for membership of the European Union. Sarkozy has opposed Turkish membership for years, a position he emphasised during his campaign last year.

Hoping that Sarkozy is open to argument, let us see if we could persuade him to change his mind for to shut Turkey out of the EU is harmful to both.

Sarkozy’s key argument is based on geography. He insists that Turkey is not “in Europe”. However, the EU is an economic and political club, not a geographical one. Geographically, Switzerland is in the heart of Europe but not in the EU. Norway and Iceland are also European in terms of geography but neither wishes to join the EU. Albania, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia, Serbia, Montenegro, Moldova and Ukraine are all geographically in Europe and wish to join the EU but cannot because membership requires something more than geography. Belarus is in Europe but the EU would not touch it with a bargepole because it lacks the minimum political qualifications.

As far as the conventional geographical description of Europe is concerned, only five per cent of Turkish territory is European. But Europe is not always defined in such narrow terms. Turkey is a founding member of the Council of Europe, a body that includes countries such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Kazakhstan that have no geographical connection with the continent.

Should the fact that a part of a country’s territory falls outside the traditional geographical limits of Europe automatically exclude it from EU membership?

There is no such rule in any of the treaties that have produced the EU since 1949. If such a rule were to be established, Russia, most of whose territory is geographically in Asia, could never consider joining the EU. Denmark would also be excluded because its vast possessions in Greenland are far away from the continent. France itself has quite a few overseas possessions in the Americas, Africa, Asia and Australasia.

When France, in association with West Germany, Italy and the Benelux countries, was building the future EU it still regarded Algeria as two if its provinces. That meant that only a quarter of French territory was actually located in Europe at the time.

Turkey has strong geographical links with Europe.

It has land and sea borders with five European nations: Russia, Ukraine, Moldova Romania, Bulgaria and Greece (the last three are members of the EU).

Turkey controls the vital link between two key European waters: the Black Sea and the Aegean, and occupies a strategic position on the Mediterranean, the heart of European civilisation.

Turkey’s historic ties with Europe are even stronger.

Several of the earliest European states, including those of the Hittites and the Greeks, were located in Anatolia. For many centuries, the Ottoman Empire, based on present-day Turkey, was a major European power with a leading role in the Balkans. In the 19th century, when Western Europeans called the Ottoman Empire “the sick man of Europe”, they never questioned its place in the continent.

Furthermore, ethnically, Turkey is predominantly European. The majority of the population are from Lydian, Hittite, Greek, and Thracian stock with addition from Slavs, Armenians, Caucasian nations, and, of course, Turkic peoples from central Asia. If Turks were “Asiatic” as Sarkozy implies, they would look like Kazakhs, Uzbeks or Koreans rather than southern Europeans.

Sarkozy might point out that the Turkish language is not European.

That is true. Turkish belongs to the Altaic family of languages while all but three European languages come from the Indo-European family. The EU, however, is not a linguistic club either. If it were, Finland and Hungary, whose national languages are not Indo-Europeans, would be excluded. France itself, along with Spain, is home to the Basque language that is also “alien” because it is not related to any European linguistic family.

In any case, there are already more Turkish speakers within the current EU than there are Bulgarian, Catalonian, Czech, Danish, Estonian, Finnish, Gallic, Greek, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Maltese, Portuguese, Swedish, or Slovenian speakers.

Turkish is already a major EU language thanks to the presence of an estimated 12 million Turkish immigrants. Only seven of the EU’s 25 recognised languages, German, French, English, Italian, Spanish, Polish and Romanian, are spoken in its present boundaries by a larger number of people.

There is one other factor that Sarkozy takes into account, albeit without giving it headline treatment: Turkey is a majority Muslim nation.

However, that factor, too, need not exclude Turkey.

Islam is already the second religion of the EU in terms of the number of its adepts. France itself is home to some six million Muslims. In 22 of the 27 current EU members, Muslims represent the largest religious minority. Islam may also be the fastest growing faith in EU in terms of demography. Some scholars project Islam to become a majority faith in Europe within the current century.

However, the EU is not a Christian club either. If it were it would have to exclude its 2.5 million Jews as well as its 20 million Muslims, not to mention millions who practice no faith at all. Should Albania and Bosnia-Herzegovina, where Muslims form majorities, never become EU members? Both have already started the preliminary stages of applying for membership.

If there are no objective reasons to keep Turkey out of the EU, there are many reasons to support its candidacy.

The EU is Turkey’s largest trading partner. It is also the biggest foreign investor in the Turkish economy. Some 80 per cent of visitors to Turkey come from the EU while the EU is the number-one destination for Turks doing business, receiving education or holidaying abroad.

It is not only by adopting the Latin alphabet that Turkey has tried to draw closer to Europe. It has adopted the democratic system, is building a secular republic and promoting a culture of pluralism. Trying to meet EU conditions, Turkey has reformed its cultural, social, and economic policies, and judicial system (the process is known as mise-a-niveau or bringing up to standard). Today, Turkey is closer to EU standards than many of the current members.

As already mentioned, Turkey is a founding member of the Council of Europe. But it is also a founding ember of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) and provides its second largest army. No so long ago, Turkey led NATO’s efforts to stabilise post-Taliban Afghanistan.

Sarkozy is wrong on Turkey, and the sooner he admits it the better for all concerned.