I’m wrapping up my take on three thorny Turkish issues. (For the Turkish perspective on the “Armenian Holocaust” and the Kurdish question, see my last two posts.)
Today’s topic: Turkey in the EU.
Governments, corporations, people…so often, they all have a different agenda. That goes for Turkish membership in the European Union, too. Here’s what I picked up last month in Istanbul from Turkish friends:
Though more than 75 percent of Turkish people oppose joining the European Union, the Turkish government and Turkish corporations are making a strong drive to join the EU.
The idea of being a member of a union where nearly 30 member states are represented by a 15-star flag makes skeptical Turks think of the EU as a club of “elites,” where some are more “equal” than the others.
Turks who oppose EU membership are concerned about what they see as European double standards on economics, social issues, and ethnic diversity. Though one of the main assets of being an EU member is free circulation of each member’s citizens throughout Europe, this right will apparently not be granted to Turkish citizens even if the EU accepts Turkey as a member.
To help pave the way to EU membership, since 1995 Turkey has been pressured into allowing EU countries to export their products to Turkey duty-free. But many Turkish products destined for Europe are still restricted by EU quotas.
Though Turkey is a secular state (as required by its constitution), Europe insists on considering it a Muslim nation. Europeans — mindful of the challenges Europe already faces with its Muslim minority — are concerned about admitting into their union a Texas-size country with 75 million people, 90 percent of whom are practicing Muslims.
The “400-pound gorilla in the room” is Europe’s demographic shift. The Continent’s declining birth rate is making it an old folks’ continent. Europeans know that if their population is not infused with fresh immigrant blood, it will start to wither away. But the inability of white Europe and its Muslim minorities (currently 10 percent of the Continent’s population) to assimilate comfortably is a serious problem that won’t just disappear.
It’s no wonder that both Europeans and Turks are split on whether Turkish membership is in their best interests.
What do I think? I can understand Europe being reluctant to suddenly admit such a culturally different group which overnight would amount to nearly one-fifth of its total population.
I also think Turkey would do more good looking east rather than west. Potentially, it can be such a positive link between Christendom and Islam. Geopolitically, I believe the world would be better off if Turkey — which tends to be “Western,” democratic, and moderate — didn’t turn its back on the troubled Middle East and the “-Stans” beyond (opting for the affluence and stability of being a member of the EU), but worked as a leader within its own ethnic, linguistic, and religious world.