[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com]
Lightning paced thriller writer
of International Intrigue
National Bestselling Author

Turkey On The Edge
by Allan Topol, [IMAGE]2004


Photo Courtesy: Julie Zitin
[Allan Topol / AllanTopol.Com] In another week the European Commission will publish its recommendation to the EU on Turkey’s application for membership. If the recommendation is in the affirmative, then EU leaders must decide at a summit meeting in December if they agree. Protracted negotiations on the conditions for membership, which might take years, would then commence. If the decision is negative, Turkey will be barred from membership.

The stakes are enormous. Not just for Turkey and the EU, but for the United States and the Middle East as well.

For Turkey, which has been a long time NATO member, joining the EU is a way to strengthen the country’s economy and raise the standard of living of the people. It is also a matter of great prestige—demonstrating that Turkey is a part of the new Europe. Turkey’s admission would logically follow the recent entry of Eastern European nations.

Many in Western Europe (“the old Europe”) are strongly opposed to Turkey’s membership. In public discussions, they point to size for starters. With seventy-one million people, Turkey is already larger in population than any EU country other than Germany, and is likely to overtake Germany in fifteen years. With voting in the EU Parliament based on population, Turkey would then have the largest national block. On the other hand, it will only have fifteen percent of the total and hardly be able to control decisions.

Poverty is the next objection being publicly raised. Turkey’s per capita income is far below other members. The risk that poor Turks might migrate west in search of already scarce jobs in Western Europe is causing anxiety among many European leaders. Already Interior Ministers are worried what they will do about the hordes of jobless they are anticipating from Eastern Europe.

Some of those opposed argue that Turkey is not even in Europe. It is in Asia. This point is absurd. Most of Cypress, which has recently joined, is east of Ankara, Turkey’s capital. Unquestionably, Turkey’s biggest city, Istanbul, lies on the European continent. Besides, the EU already decided this issue in Turkey’s favor a number of years ago.

Brushing those arguments aside, we come to the one whispered about. “Turkey is a Muslim country.” Many in the old Europe view the EU as a Christian Club.

At present, approximately twelve million EU citizens are Muslim, but those people reside in Christian dominated nations. Turkey is different. The country is almost all Muslim.

For decades, the Turkish government has been fiercely secular and has a strict separation of church and state. This should satisfy the Europeans who claim that religious freedom is the only relevant criteria. Turkey, like France, forbids the wearing of head coverings in public schools, to the dismay of Muslims. But bigotry against Islam runs strong in Europe these days.

Offsetting these anti-Turkish pressures are military considerations. We can expect European Defense Industries to be supportive of Turkey’s application for EU membership. The Turkish military is a large arms purchaser, and EDI has the ability to put pressure on the relevant decision makers. To the extent that the EU moves toward a more integrated military in the future, Turkey will be a valuable asset.

The Turkish situation on this issue is not helped by the fact that the current head of the Turkish government, Erdogan, is from a party with Islamic roots. He has tried to cut back the power of the military which has been a force for secularism. His government planned to criminalize adultery, but when it was clear that would cost Turkey any chance at EU membership, Erdogan promptly reversed course.

On the other hand, the EU admitted Ireland in the 1970s when the Catholic church controlled much of Irish public life. What the issue comes down to is whether Europeans will equate Islam with terrorism and support for Osma Bin Laden.

Here’s where the United States has a lot on the line. Turkey is precisely the type of liberal democracy which Bush in trying to foster in the Muslim Middle East. If the EU votes “no,” this will confirm the view of hardliners in the Muslim world that a war is being waged by Christians against Islam. Conversely, a “yes” vote means that freedom and democracy are rewarded and have tangible benefits.

On top of all that, despite differences with Ankara at the beginning of the second Iraqi war, the U.S. needs Turkey as a staunch ally for its Middle Eastern battles against terrorism. I worry that with Erdogan’s Islamic party in control, Turkey may become less secular, particularly if the power of its army diminishes. EU membership could be a way of halting this dangerous slide.

Conversely, if Turkey is spurned by Europe, the reversion toward an Islamic state may intensify. Turkey may then turn against the U.S. as well and look eastward. The adverse consequences for American foreign policy will be severe.

We’re in a familiar situation. The Europeans will do what they want. We’ll have to live with the consequences. Let’s hope they vote yes.