Members of the European Union should be open about Turkey's EU accession bid as the country's entry into the union would benefit the rest of the continent, writes Greens lawmaker Cem Oezdemir for DW-WORLD.DE.
Turkey's EU bid is an unprecedented project, Oezdemir says
Cem Oezdemir is a member of the European Parliament and sits in the legislature's foreign affairs committee. He is also a candidate for the leadership of the German Greens, which is up for election in November.
The EU and Turkey have negotiated accession since Oct. 3, 2005 after EU leaders gave the green light in December 2004. Despite this unanimous decision, the Turkish EU bid sparks controversial and emotional debates.
But this row is not just about Turkey. That country's membership begs the question: What is Europe and what should it be? There are parallels to the German debate about a so-called leading culture. In that case, we're not just talking about integrating immigrants, but also assuring ourselves about the future and identity of our society. The debate about the EU's borders and its expansion is also a kind of self-assurance in this respect. But what is Europe?
The EU's member states are close economically. It would be wrong to set aside economic integration when trying to come up with a common definition for Europe -- as if it plays a smaller role than supposedly objective national borders and shared cultural values. The importance of political integration becomes apparent when looking at the challenges that one country cannot shoulder on its own.
Whether talking about demographic change, climate change, the fight against terrorism or the global fight against poverty and hunger -- the European Union offers a unique potential for the effective cooperation of states. The EU reform treaty is an important step in that direction -- even if it certainly won't be the final one.
But solidarity and cooperation, which come with a surrender of sovereignty in the case of the EU, are not just based on the power of facts -- they also feed on internal prerequisites that go further than that. I see 20th century history as the foundation.
Vision, not essence
For me, today's Europe is a vision and a project that would not be conceivable without the catastrophe of World War II. To me, Europe and the EU symbolize the ideals of peace, democracy and freedom of opinion. The realization of these ideals on a daily basis is meant to prevent such a catastrophe from ever happening again in Europe.
Having said that, I think it's hardly convincing to define Europe exclusively in terms of its Judeo-Christian heritage or enlightenment. There are no objective, essentialist criteria, which could completely determine our identity and future. Geographers and historians refer to Europe's "constructed" borders.
So what is Europe? According to our own conception, it's a place where human rights, freedom of opinion and democracy are nonnegotiable values. But that's not an intrinsic quality, but rather something that we want.
The war in Yugoslavia, which happened not too long ago, and the involvement of member states in CIA abductions and inhumane arrests at Guantanamo prove that we are far from having reached the end of that development. If there are states that want to join the EU and know exactly about the importance of these values for us, that's a confirmation of the visionary idea and the success of the European Union.
In that sense, it's pretty pointless to ask whether Turkey's "essence" belongs to Europe or not. Since the country sees itself as a part of Europe and wants to become an EU member, it's not important what Europe is or isn't. Instead, what counts is what kind of the EU we want and which role Turkey should play. Religious and cultural questions should not be left out when engaging in a public debate about the EU expansion -- but they should not play a role when making a decision for or against a country's membership.
Stick to the facts
The membership criteria are well known: The relevant Copenhagen criteria call for a functioning and competitive market economy, democracy, the rule of law, respecting human rights, the protection of minorities as well as the adoption of existing EU laws. The adoption of EU laws happens in 35 chapters and is strictly controlled.
While the criteria for accession are clear, certain people continue to argue against a Turkish membership from a culture-based point of view. In that context, the country's Islamic character is frequently mentioned -- be it overtly or covertly. But we should really finally lay to rest culture-based, essentialist views, as if the culture of a country and its population cannot change over time. Former membership candidates Spain and Ireland prove this ability to change -- as does Germany.
A successful fulfillment of the membership criteria, which is strictly monitored in the case of Turkey as it's never been done before, will not only change Turkey economically and politically, but certainly also in terms of the country's cultural character. Just think of what needs to happen in the education sector.
An unprecedented effort
But that doesn't mean that Turkey has to become atheist or Christian. Instead, Turkey and its population have to prove in an unprecedented effort that Islam, on the one hand, and democracy, human rights, market economy and protection of minorities, on the other, don’t contradict each other.
A few years ago, Syrian regime critic and publicist Michel Kilo reminded people in Berlin that the view of Turkey in Middle Eastern societies had changed. Not too long ago, the successor state to the Ottoman Empire had been seen as a traitor because of its NATO membership and its good relations with Israel. Today the country is respected for its democratic elections, press freedom and economic development, he said. Ankara is also playing an important role as a mediator in the Mideast conflict.
Keeping that in mind, Turkey's EU integration is not only in Turkey's but also in Europe's interest. Civil societies and reform-oriented forces in Middle Eastern countries are curious about Turkey's future path. Member states should therefore not see Turkey as a match-ball for domestic politics, but accept it as a positive challenge and accompany the country honestly and still critically on its way into the EU. It's clear that a successful completion of this project is in our interest.