This week’s big news in Europe has been the opening of talks
on the eventual admission of Turkey to the European Union. Popular
opinion in Europe is strongly against the move; it is believed to have
been a major reason for the “no” votes on the new EU constitution in
France and the Netherlands earlier this year (although it is worth
pointing out that a key proponent of this view is Valery Giscard
d’Estaing, the chief author of the constitution, who perhaps has an
incentive to believe that people voted against it for extraneous
reasons).

The talks almost didn’t start at all, when Austria held out until the
other members also agreed to start talks with Croatia. It therefore
looks as if most of the Balkan countries will still be in the queue
ahead of Turkey; Romania’s prime minister is currently in France to
argue that the admission of Romania and Bulgaria should proceed on
schedule at the start of 2007.

Croatia had been shut out because it was accused of tardiness in giving
up an accused war criminal. The Croatians might reasonably respond that
that is hardly as serious as being in denial about an entire genocide,
as the Turkish government is in relation to the Armenian massacres of
1916 – an especially important issue in France with its large Armenian
community.

Anti-Turkish feeling cuts across political boundaries, but tends to be
more common on the right. Germany’s prospective chancellor, Angela
Merkel, is a strong opponent. In France, the centre-right government is
divided on the issue: Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin is pro-Turkey, while his rival, interior minister Nicolas Sarkozy, is anti.

The importance of integrating Turkey into the developed world can
hardly be overstated, especially since the Turkish government is no
longer in the hands of committed secularists. The Justice and
Development Party of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is an
Islamic-based movement, successor to the Welfare Party, which was
banned by the Turkish military in a 1998 “soft coup.” Yet this is the
government that is determined to be a part of Europe, and has gone to
some lengths to meet European objections by strengthening democracy and
the rule of law.

As Tony Parkinson says in this morning’s Age,
it’s “an example of a Muslim-based political movement that might prove
crucial in liberalising the politics of the Middle East … The
escalating danger in Europe’s cold-shouldering of this moderate Turkish
state has been to fuel, in Turkey and beyond, a suspicion that
Westerners tend to rope all Muslims together as one vast,
fire-breathing ideology of violence and menace.”

Peter Fray

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