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Saturday, November 09, 2002


So Giscard d'Estaing has spelled it out, Turkey should not be considered for EU membership since it is just too different. In fact he went further by implying that Turkey must never be allowed to join the EU. The decisive factors: Turkey's Muslim character and high birth rate, the fact that it has "a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life". After all, Turkey's capital is not in Europe, 95% of its population are outside." Of course not everyone agrees. One British government spokesman is quoted as saying firmly: "Turkey is a European country that has every right to join if [it meets] the conditions." Whilst Pat Cox, the Irish president of the European parliament, limited himself to calling Mr Giscard's remarks "ill-advised" and "distinctly unhelpful".

Like Berlusconi's faux pas earlier this year, such comments are important not for their immediate impact, but for what they reveal about the way of thinking of an important part of Europe's political class. Europe is well, 'European'. The problem is that this European group of countries is not producing enough children to sustain itself economically, or to return the pension payments made as contributions by its now ageing population. As if to add insult to injury, Giscard cites as a negative, one of the very compelling arguments for considering Turkey (and other states with a high proportion of young people) as a candidate: its high birth rate. How long do we need to wait before it finally sinks in that there is such a thing as the demographic transition. That association with countries like Turkey and others with similar demographic characteristics (Morroco?) could be highly beneficial for both parties and that we are all in a process of change and discovery. To imagine that the Turkeys and Morrocos of today as immobile and stuck in some strange kind of time warp, is like imagining that the US would always be an insignificant British colony.

There has been much talk of the need for structural reform in Europe in recent years, but much of this talk has stopped short of recognising the most fundamental structural reform of all which is now knocking on Europe's doors: the reform of its own identity. European leaders, using the bandwagon philosophy of globalisation have been only too happy to try to instruct Third World leaders on how to change their countries for the better. Well I think the old British adage that those 'who live in glass houses shouldn't throw stones', would be advice that those same leaders would do well to heed. Europe needs to open itself. Accept that no-one is perfect, and that we are all in a process of change. Can Giscard imagine how France's own citizens of North African origin feel when he explains his view of Europe. The French, it seems, are very good at understanding the cultural differences the French have when applied to the Anglo Saxon world, but it also seems that some of them have a long way to go when it comes to recognising La Difference Culturelle in others.

Turkey's EU prospects have improved in recent months because of the long-awaited reforms introduced by the previous government on the death penalty, human rights and the Kurdish language. The US is pushing hard for its membership, because of its strategic location next to Iraq. But this week's election victory by the Justice and Development Party (AKP) has raised new concern about Islamist influence. No problems should exist in theory; the AKP leader, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is pro-reform and pro-European and has made EU entry a high priority. In practice, however, the suspicion about the party found in the Turkish military establishment is widely shared in Brussels and elsewhere in the union. Mr Erdogan refused to overreact to Mr Giscard's comments. "Turkey is a member of the Council of Europe, an OECD member and a Nato member," he said.

The question of Turkish membership has long been a thorny issue for the EU. Turkey's help is badly needed to resolve the division of Cyprus before the island joins in 2004, and Ankara has to approve arrangements giving the EU's rapid reaction force access to Nato military assets. The European commission quickly distanced itself from Mr Giscard's comments and insisted that there had been no change to its view that Turkey - a candidate since 1999 - had to meet all necessary economic and political standards, including the key Copenhagen criteria on human rights, before negotiations could begin. "To say such a thing about such a country that is member of such bodies is nothing more than emotion." In a thinly veiled attack on Britain, Mr Giscard said that those who had pushed hardest for Turkish membership were "enemies of the EU".
Source: The Guardian

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