The decision of the European Union summit at Luxembourg on October 4 to hold accession talks with Turkey (over Austria's objections) was hailed by both Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the Turkish prime minister, and Jack Straw, Britain's foreign minister (Britain holds the current EU chairmanship), as “historic”. But the accession talks will take at least ten years to prepareTurkey for entry into the EU by totally transforming its Muslim and Asian cultures, so the decision can only be historic in this negative sense. Fortunately, it is not historic in the sense thatTurkey will actually become a member of the EU, as it will not automatically be admitted, by common consent, even after the transformation of its culture and political commitments.
As Jose Manuel Barroso, the president of the European Commission, said after the decision had been declared, Turkish accession is “neither guaranteed nor automatic”. Jacques Chirac, president of France, in his turn warned that Turkey would need a “major cultural revolution” to become a member, while Tony Blair, prime minister of Britain, said that it would take a very long time and require “very big changes”. Mrs Angela Merkel, the new German chancellor, had rejected Turkey's accession just before the recent elections in Germany, turning it into a campaigning issue. Now that she is chancellor, she is well placed to veto Turkey's admission, and is indeed expected to do so.
Last year Erits Bolkestein, the EU internal market commissioner, described in a recent media comment as one of “the many Turkophobes with the EU”, claimed that the liberation of Viennafrom the Ottoman Turks in 1683 “would have been in vain” were Turkey to join the EU. His remarks show clearly that the issue of religious prejudice is involved in European opposition to Turkey becoming a member of the EU. Benedict XVI, the new pope, put this beyond doubt when in September he asked whether admitting a Muslim country into the EU is compatible with “European values”. Yet Turkey is one of the most secular Muslim countries, where there is even a ban on headscarves in universities and public offices. Erdogan has so far failed to keep his campaign promise to lift this ban.
However, the transformation demanded of Ankara for it to qualify for membership of the EU covers every aspect of Turkish life. One of Europe's demands, for instance, is the adoption by Ankara of more than 80,000 EU regulations, divided into 35 ‘chapters', so called, each covering a separate topic, such as law and home affairs. Such is the determination of the EU to have every one of them implemented that all the EU's 25 members must agree that Ankara has met every single condition in each chapter before the relevant negotiation is closed. This means that any member, including Greek Cyprus (which Turkey must recognise), can hold up the accession talks at any time. Tassos Papadopoulos, the president of Greek Cyprus, is reported to have assured his electorate that he has “scores of vetoes up his sleeve”.
There is very little doubt that Turkey will be totally transformed if the conditions are implemented, or if their implementation is seriously attempted, even without complete success. As Guler Sabanci, a well-known Turkish businessman, has said in a magazine interview, “the Turkey that will enter the European Union is not the Turkey we have today.” According to him, “Turkey is committed to the EU path, not only for the sake of becoming a full member, but essentially for itself.” If Turkey is transformed to this extent and if it is allowed to join the EU (which is unlikely even if the conditions are met in full), this will be very bad news indeed, not only for Turks but for Muslims worldwide.
Ankara will not only become a tool of EU foreign policy, but will also be compelled to side with European countries (even those that are not EU members) in their disputes with Muslim countries. Azerbaijan, for instance, has a territorial dispute with Armenia and has so far been backed by Turkey, while EU members have backed Yerevan. This explains the Azeris' outcry against the accession talks, and their opposition to Turkey's membership of the Union. Moreover, Ankara will be forced to play a prominent role in the so-called war on Islamic terrorism, as the European and US governments will hope that Turkey's Islamic background will help to obscure the fact that it is really a war on Islam and Muslims. As a member of the EU, Turkey will also be required to lead the campaign to force Muslim communities in Europe to adopt secularism and abandon any Islamic commitment or identity, however partial or flawed. The plans of European governments to control what is taught in madrassas, for instance, will be deemed to benefit from Muslim Turkey's leadership, and pressure will be exerted on it to assume a leading role.
But one of the most surprising things about all this is that the political leader and party that are most committed to carry Turkey into the EU and place it in this very anti-Islamic position are prime minister Erdogan and his ruling party, both generally said to be “Islamist”, while Turkey's most prominent nationalist leaders are opposed to it. In fact nationalists are believed in the West to be the main obstacle to Erdogan's “Islamic programme” for Turkey. The fact that Erdogan, who was jailed briefly in 1999 for ‘anti-secularism', led the Justice and Development Party to victory in the general elections of 2002, while he was banned from political activity, should have convinced him that the Turkish people value their Islamic heritage and culture and are opposed to the humiliating quest for EU membership. Indeed, he is generally believed to have ruined his and his party's chances of victory in the next general elections, due in 2007.
Yet it is not too late for the situation to be retrieved to his and his party's benefit and in the interests of all Muslims; this can be done easily if his government pulls out of the accession talks and gives up its quest for a secular European identity.