|Author (Person)||Coss, Simon|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.10, No.33, 30.9.04|
By Simon Coss
WHEN it comes to the vexed question of Turkey's possible membership of the EU, no-one can accuse Europe's think-tanks of being out of sync with the public mood.
The Union's top political thinkers are just as divided on this as the rest of us.
The only thing that everyone seems to agree on is that the likely discussions between the EU and Ankara over the coming years will be anything but easy.
For political thinkers in favour of letting Turkey join the Union, the challenge ahead will be to keep Ankara's membership bid moving forward over what is likely to be at least another ten years.
They argue that unless EU governments and the European Commission show regularly and convincingly that Ankara is making progress, Eurosceptics and reactionaries inside Turkey could put an end to the country's EU ambitions.
"It is clear that the EU's steady pressure has empowered the modernizers in Turkish politics. But the modernizers will only be able to keep the upper hand if the EU offers Turkey visible and measurable progress towards accession," wrote Heather Grabbe of the London based Centre for European Reform (CER) in an extensive paper on Turkey's EU bid this summer.
Grabbe argued that, without such encouragement, "the fragile consensus favouring reform in Turkey could quickly crumble".
The CER analyst believes that EU membership for Ankara would benefit both Turkey and the Union's existing member states.
She says the prospect of joining the Union has already pushed the Turkish government to introduce major reforms on issues such as human rights, minority rights and civilian control of the army.
This process would continue once the country had joined the Union, she insists.
As far as other EU countries are concerned, Grabbe argues that Turkey's young and growing population would give a much-needed boost to western Europe's ageing workforce.
She says Turkey could act as a bridge between the EU and the Islamic world, adding that the Union would be better able to deal with the problems of drug-trafficking and people-smuggling - Turkey is a major transit route for narcotics and illegal immigrants - if Ankara were inside the EU tent.
But opponents of Ankara's membership bid use almost exactly the same arguments to say that Turkey should not be allowed to become an EU member state.
In a recent paper for the Brussels-based European Policy Centre (EPC) French political analyst Sylvie Goulard argued that neither Turkey nor the EU's existing members are yet ready for Ankara to join the Union.
She is particularly critical of French President Jacques Chirac for using the term "irreversible" to describe Turkey's slow move towards Union membership.
"By declaring the decision irreversible our leaders are endangering democracy," Goulard said.
"They are betting on the future of the European project. They are playing with our destiny."
Goulard believes that public opinion inside the existing EU is simply not ready to accept the idea of Turkey, with its majority Muslim population, becoming an EU member state.
And not just any member state, either. The French political analyst points out that, based on current population projections, Turkey would be the Union's biggest single country if it joined the EU in 2015.
That should give it as many votes in the Council of Ministers as Germany and more than France and the UK.
In other words, Ankara would be one of the biggest players on the EU stage.
"Turkey already has 75 million inhabitants; by acceding it will become the largest EU country, with the highest number of seats in the European Parliament, the biggest influence in the Council and the greatest number of civil servants in the Commission," she wrote.
Moreover, it is not at all clear at present whether a country with such a nationalist past would be willing to play the EU compromise game.
"Will it be ready to give up its strong nationalism, which still denies [alleged] Armenian genocide more than a century after it happened? And most importantly, because this is the key issue, will it accept qualified majority voting?" she asks.
Behind Goulard's words there also seems to be a concern that many of the reforms introduced so speedily in Turkey could just as quickly be repealed if the political wind began blowing another way. Supporters of this view point to the recent furore around suggestions that adultery could become a criminal offence in Turkey as evidence of the fragile nature of the reform process (although the plan was dropped last week).
It remains to be seen just where Turkey's quest for membership will lead the country. The think-tanks will be racking their brains on the topic for many years to come.
Article sys that on the question of Turkey's possible membership of the EU Europe's think-tanks are as undecided as the public mood.
|Countries / Regions||Turkey|