EU confirms determination to keep Muslim Turkey out

Empowering Weak & Oppressed

Correspondent in Istanbul

Rabi' al-Thani 13, 1425 2004-06-01

Special Reports

by Correspondent in Istanbul (Special Reports, Crescent International Vol. 33, No. 4, Rabi' al-Thani, 1425)

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and, as such, has no place in the European Union, as president Jacques Chirac of France recently said candidly, without any direct reference to Islam...

Turkey is a predominantly Muslim country and, as such, has no place in the European Union, as president Jacques Chirac of France recently said candidly, without any direct reference to Islam. The determination of the old EU-members to keep Turkey out will no doubt be reinforced by the former communist East European countries that have now been admitted into the Union. But member countries are not loathe to treat Ankara as a valued trading partner, provided it remains secular and continues to cooperate in the ‘war against terrorism'. The current pressure on Iran by Brussels to "reform" and end its presumed "support for terrorists" if it wants to preserve its status as the EU's biggest trading-partner, demonstrates the extent to which it is prepared to fight Islam. Moreover, the recent announcement that certain members are working to include in the EU's draft constitution a reference to Christianity as the EU's religion tends to explain why Turkey, regardless of how secular it makes itself, will not be admitted as a member.

There is even evidence that the EU does not take Turkey's secularism for granted, and continues to watch for signs of Islamic resurgence, cooperating with the Turkish military establishment to prevent such resurgence. The conditions specified for the beginning of entry negotiations between Brussels and Ankara include greater "democratisation", the strengthening of human rights, and the removal of the Turkish military from the political arena. Yet when, in early May, the Turkish government introduced an education reform bill that allows young graduates of Shari'ah schools to go to university and to pursue careers as state officials, judges, lawyers and teachers, Brussels sided with the military and civilian secularists, who see this as a threat to secularism. Military and civilian leaders – including university teachers and journalists – accused the "Islamically oriented" government of Recep Tayyip Erdogan and the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP), which came to power in late 2002, of bringing in "Islamic fundamentalism through the back door".

According to the government, the proposal, part of its election manifesto, is intended to correct an injustice. In 1999, two years after an Islamically-oriented government had been overthrown, a law was passed that banned the graduates of Shari'ah schools from professional careers; they could only become religious leaders, not state officials. Murat Mercin, a deputy chairman of the AKP, said: "There is no hidden agenda. We are pursuing membership of the EU. If you look at what we have done so far, that claim has no grounds. You have to look at the desires and needs and expectations of Turkish voters and the promises we made them in our election campaign. This bill is part of an attempt to reduce discrimination among high school graduates."

But the EU does not really want Turkey to be more democratic; if it did, it would have encouraged the AKP reforms that have made the country more open and less corrupt, as even Western European media reports have admitted. The Financial Times, for instance, referred on May 11 to "the irony that an Islamic-oriented government is proving more progressive in both domestic and international affairs than the secular parties that preceded it." If Ankara succeeds in fulfilling the conditions set for EU accession, Brussels will lose its ostensible reasons for excluding Ankara. Moreover, a more open and less corrupt ruling elite will be likely to strengthen links with Muslim countries and reduce its services to the NATO alliance, including its cooperation with the "war on terrorism".

Another attempt of Ankara's to improve its accession prospects was its support for the UN's plan to reunite Turkish and Greek Cyprus before its entry into the Union. Greek Cypriots voted against the plan, but their part of the island was immediately taken into the EU, while the Turkish part was left out. The two-facedness of the EU, and of the West as a whole, was to praise the Turkish Cypriots for voting for the UN's plan, promising to remove the sanctions imposed since 1974, when the island was divided for the first time, and to establish strong links with it. Ankara, which put strong pressure on the Cypriots for the plan, is not now being rewarded. Greek Cyprus is in fact now able, as a member of the EU, to block Turkey's accession by vetoing the start of the EU membership talks in December. The European Commission is expected to deliver its "progress report" on Turkey's reforms in October.

Analysts believe that in October the Commission will recommend the start of accession talks, but that does not mean that it is in favour of Turkey's admission as a member, particularly when the member-countries are divided even over starting preliminary talks. The French ruling party, UMP, has said that it will campaign against the negotiations with Ankara during the European elections in June. Alan Juppe, UMP chairman and one of president Chirac's closest advisors, said: "The UMP does not want to see negotiations start for Turkish membership of the EU. We are favourable towards a sort of privileged partnership, and the constitution project opens this possibility." Chirac later endorsed the UMP's stand by saying that he was against any early admission of Turkey into the Union.

It is, of course, possible that France will be opposed by the other two leading EU members, namely Germany and Britain, on the issue of negotiations, though not on that of admission. But Chirac and Juppe are not alone in thinking that, while Turkey is fit to host the European song contest (which it did in May) and the NATO summit (to be held in Istanbul on June 28-29), it is not fit to be a member of an organisation that is planning to include in its draft constitution a declaration that it is Christian. Nor is it only European countries that back Turkey's exclusion from Europe. Supporters of Israel believe that admitting Turkey would be against Israel's interests, despite the fact that Ankara is a strong US ally and a leading member of NATO.

The US, for instance, holds that Turkey is good enough to be a leading ally only if it backs American strategic interests. When Ankara opposed the US-led invasion of Iraq, Washington did not conceal its irritation with one of its closest allies. Only when the Turkish government began to cooperate closely in the "war against terrorism" did Washington back holding the NATO summit in Istanbul. Western media reports saw this as "a signal that Turkey has been fully rehabilitated by Washington after its bitter disagreement with Ankara during the run-up to the war," as one report in early May put it. But the government chose to step up its "war on terrorism" by cracking down on ‘Islamic militants', who had been planning (according to the security forces) "a sensational attack" on the NATO summit in June, which is expected to be attended by George W. Bush, the US president.

The Turkish government will best serve the interests of its own people by organising better relations with other leading Muslim countries, such as Iran and Pakistan. Closer economic, military and political cooperation between these three countries might increase the respect of Western states for them, and could transform their alliance into an organisation that can assert and secure Muslims' interests.

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