Abstract: The opposition to Turkey’s EU membership is often based on the country’s vast population, their wrongly publicized religion, their unconsolidated economy, their uncertain politics, their critical geographical location and their stereotyped culture. I argue that those, with few exceptions, must be seen as dynamic, thus prone to inevitable change. Given that today’s Europe is a pool of variety and ideas that represent our major competitive advantage in the world, the future, in a context of increasing globalization, will require even more of Europe’s efforts. Turkey might prove to be the essential ingredient to Europe’s sustainability.
In varietate concordia is the Latin for “United in diversity”, and it was adopted as the European Union motto in the year 2000
Concentrating on the risks Europe has at hand regarding Turkey’s EU membership keeps us from looking ahead, to the future of EU and of Turkey itself. Broadly and irrefutably speaking, things change. And as is often the rule, change means improving. Since the coal and steel era things have been getting better in Europe and the community is now a prosperous region “united in diversity”. Turkey has also changed impressively. If one looks back to the 1920’s Ottoman Empire and compares it to the modern Turkey, the change is unbelievable. I believe there are no reasons to assume that things will stop changing and improving. So I ask, what is preventing EU of courageously assuming and committing to its role on Turkey’s change? The answer is often based on the following: Turkey’s vast population, their wrongly publicized religion, their unconsolidated economy, their uncertain politics, their critical geographical location and their stereotyped culture. I argue that those, with few exceptions, must be seen as dynamic, thus prone to inevitable change.
Turkey is a large country of approx. 70 million people. Population growth estimates clearly point out that Turkey will be the most populated country of the EU. That is hardly changeable, but solely, poses no major threat. The commonly perceived risk comes out of a combination of that vast population with the current EU rules that take population size into account for the voting process, but those rules are not perpetual. The vast Turkish immigrant communities have contributed to Europe’s growth and today are an example of good integration. If the future of Europe passes by a Constitution, that should guarantee in a comprehensive manner the protection of the interests of all the European citizens.
Turkey’s major religion is Islam. But generally religion is a vague concept and Islam has been especially prone to erroneous interpretations that distort its meaning and, with the help of sensationalist media, severely harm its image abroad. In addition, being religious or being identified as “Muslim” doesn’t mean the same to every individual, which obviously also applies to Christianity and other beliefs. It is important to be aware and keep in mind the differences among Islamic countries, and doing so, one must position Turkey by the tolerant edge. Moreover there are differences within each country and that is especially obvious in Turkey: between different regions, but most importantly between different generations. The educated Turkish youth is well informed and tolerant and that is the trend underlying Turkey’s future on the topic of religion.
Turkey’s economy has deficiencies but those have been changing and improving. Turkey has reached sound macroeconomic stability and is part of so called emerging markets. Although the modern infrastructure of the western part of the country is hardly comparable to the impoverished east, EU should look beyond the cost of setting the grounds for Turkey’s development and focus on the shared benefits of an enlarged integrated market.
The political panorama in Turkey is unstable and multipartite but, as in the European Union, demonstrably dedicated to the well-being of their citizens. Turkey is gloomed by many unresolved issues of great significance. For instance, the Kurdish minority still claims the recognition of an own cultural identity, the Alevi communities insist on the religious minority status while Cyprus remains divided. These and the incidents related to the power struggles between the Islamic and secular blocs keep hindering developments in the EU accession negotiations. The military, extended politically through the nationalist CHP party, has demonstrated to be a threat to the quality of Turkey’s democracy. Nevertheless, Turkey is a recognized democracy and as long as Turkish people want it to be, and they demonstrably do, then the future is optimistic.
Turkey’s complicated location, bordering countries such as Syria, Iraq or Iran, is often seen as a drawback of Turkey’s membership to the EU due to the great importance that security preservation has to its citizens. In fact, if we think beyond the cost of setting an appropriate border control, extending the boundaries of EU that far represents an opportunity to increase the long term safety of the European citizens by means of increased control and monitoring. Furthermore, Turkey’s location is an important asset to secure Europe’s energy future, making the connection to the sources of the Caspian Sea.
Finally, there is still to mention the Turkish culture. It can be seen as one of the most rewarding aspects of Turkey’s membership to the European Union. Today’s Turkey inherited much of its vast history of multiculturality and diversity, visible throughout the country and in its people. Many examples can be given: a visit to Istanbul’s Dolmabahçe palace is a tour around Europe in excellence handcraft and the palace’s architecture has elements of Baroque, Rococo and Neoclassic traditions, blended with Ottoman art; The Turkish Constitution is based on that of France, Germany and Italy; The Turkish language, spoken by more than 70 million people, traces back to Central Asia, and is today spoken in small scale throughout the Balkan and Eastern Europe, a result of the western expansion of the Ottoman Empire, and among substantial immigrant communities; The Ottoman gastronomy is worldwide famous and greatly admired. The popular döner kebab is part of Europe’s popular food culture, having gained a singular place in Germany’s national menu; and Turkish music is very much appreciated all over Europe, from Pop to the Classical.
For anyone who takes the chance, Turkey might represent one of the most challenging and rewarding experiences of intercultural exchange within Europe, and certainly contribute to widening the horizons of the European citizens. Today’s Europe is a pool of variety and ideas which represent our major competitive advantage in the world. The future, in a context of increasing globalization, will require even more of Europe’s efforts and Turkey might prove to be the essential ingredient to Europe’s sustainability.