By ANGELA SAGER, guest columnist
March 8, 2005
The Lariat ONLINE
As a key U.S. ally and the only Middle Eastern country that is a member of NATO, Turkey plays an important role both strategically and diplomatically in the world. Talks of Turkey’s entry into the European Union, therefore, are important issues to not only the countries involved, but also to the United States. As social, economic and political concessions are made to reach the standards the EU demands, the United States has an important role in reassuring the best interests of both parties will be served with this alliance.
The compromise of both parties must be made in an equitable manner so as to assure the mutual understanding and bipartisanship that will insure a happy and long-lasting relationship.
Having been in the country Dec. 17 — when the EU approved to begin talks about its entry next October – I had the opportunity to witness a new found identity among the Turks. Their sense of nationality and their place among its European neighbors and the world was discussed and debated among both intellectuals, government officials, and the average Turk. This air of open deliberation was one in which I learned much about the diverse and educated opinions of most Turks — as well as, the benefits and consequences that will be bestowed on both Turkey and the EU.
The economic factors of the merger are both the biggest benefit, as well as detriment to Turkey.
Since 2002, the economy has been growing fast, unemployment has dropped, and corporate taxes are set to be dropped in order to encourage foreign investment. Once more, Turkey’s exports of agricultural goods helps to supplement many areas of Europe today, notably Germany. By joining the EU, all European countries would be open to a more free flow of the agricultural.
While the benefits are enticing, much of Europe is also concerned with the large amount of foreign debt that Turkey possesses. Close to economic collapse in 2002, it was a deal with the IMF that saved the country. Furthermore, while Turkey’s large population could help to supplement Europe’s military and workforce, a dramatic influx of mostly undereducated, poor Turks could also put a strain on European countries’ resources.
Several social issues also remain as barriers to Turkey’s accession into the EU — religion being one of the largest. Though a secular state, Turkey has a population that largely identifies itself as Muslim. The cultural divergence of Turkey and the EU are what many European countries feel can not be overcome.
The Dutch, in particular, have been outspoken in their fear of an “Islamisation” of Europe if Turkey joined. Many Turks also speculate as to whether the Europeans are willing to look at them on equal footing.
While a problem, the Turks are not unfamiliar with a multi-ethnic, multi-religious existence. Turks have a long history of integrating their identity with other nations and cultures. Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell recognized the importance of this unity when he commented last December that, “A Turkey that is firmly anchored in Europe and sharing European values will be a positive force for prosperity and democracy.”
The government implications of the entrance of Turkey into the EU also overlap many of these cultural concerns. Turkey’s military has seen itself as the protectorate of secularism in the country since the time of its founder Mustafa Kemal Ataturk.
With this, multiple coups and constitutions have occurred to keep the government from becoming fundamentally religious. This amount of military control, however, is a concern for the European countries and the stability of the Turkish government.
Finally, Turkey’s long and sorted human rights violations involving their Armenian and Kurdish populations have been another source of contention within the EU.
French President Jacques Chirac went as far as to threaten the halt of negotiations until Turkey admits that the 1915 killing of Armenians was a tragedy. Turkey has begun to work towards steps of improving its record by outlawing the death penalty and other harsh civil penal codes. However, many Turks see these past violations as a convenient excuse for the European countries to reject their entry.
The decision on whether to join the EU is one with which Turks grapple. Many are afraid of losing their identities as one of the most culturally diverse and rich peoples.
Furthermore, it is also believed the EU may try and ask more than is possible for the Turks to concede to — like the creation of an independent Kurdistan or complete withdrawal from Cyprus — and are therefore just pulling Turkey along on a string through these talks.
In the end, however, whether Turkey is accepted (or choose to join) into the EU or not, the changes made in pursuit of the agreement will be seen to further move the country in a more democratic, peaceful nation.
At the rate in which globalization is expanding, and the powers of countries are increasing through consolidation, it is important for the United States to maintain a peace and cooperation with our long-time European and Turkish friends.