[VIEWPOINT]Will Europe accept Turkey?

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[VIEWPOINT]Will Europe accept Turkey?

Should the European Union open formal negotiations with Turkey over its entry into the group? The debate on Turkish entry probably constitutes the most crucial and difficult challenge the European Union has ever faced. It is as much about us as about them, and more than ever it mixes emotions and realities. Turkey may be indeed ready in 10 years to enter the union, but will the union be ready to accept it?
To say yes to Turkey is a very big gamble but a positive bet on the future. To say no is a huge historical responsibility. At a time when the East-West conflict that dominated the Cold War has been replaced in the coming decade by a conflict between fundamentalist Islam and the West, Europe is faced with a tough choice. Either it pursues a core message of reconciliation and extends it to what will become a European Islam and allows Turkey in, or it retreats defensively. If Europe wants to continue to export a model of tolerance, peace, reconciliation and prosperity, the European Union is given a key chance to do so, for Turkey is the right country at the right time and in the right place. It is Muslim, democratic, secular, modernizing successfully and it borders the Middle East and the Caucasus.
But can Europe -- for the sake of a better world, Middle-East peace and harmony between Islam and the West ― take the risk of its own dissolution? Can a continent in search of its own political and geographic identity be so generous, visionary and capable of such a daring inspiration in search of its own long term interests?
The reasons today that are making future Turkish entrance into the European Union more necessary and legitimate are also making it more difficult than ever.
In purely emotional terms, the process of globalization is playing against Turkey. Of course the voluntary return of Istanbul into the European Union might be seen as the peaceful reconquest of Constantinople by the West. But instead it is perceived by a large numbers of citizens of Europe as the threat of seventy million Muslim disturbing if not invading our “select club.”
The terrorist attacks in the United States in 2001 makes the integration of Turkey more necessary and frightening. If the threat comes from Islam, “why on earth should we marry our mortal enemy, and unlike Bosnia which will one day apply for candidacy to the Union, Turkey is not only Muslim but very large.” Of course this is precisely also why we need Turkey if our aging and slightly sleeping continent wants to fulfill its ambition to truly play a world diplomatic role, particularly in the Middle East.
The fear of being turned into an “Islamic continent” seems sometimes to prevail over the concern for decadence. France’s difficulty in integrating its large Muslim, essentially Arab community plays against Turkey, again a product of ignorance and confusion since Turks are not Arabs. It explains why French public opinion has demonstrated so much hostility to Turkish entry.
It is more likely than not that Turkey will one day enter Europe, but they must be fully aware of the nature of the challenge they are facing. The debate that is taking place in Europe is not only about their performances in human rights or economic competitiveness. It is about their essence, i.e. a large Muslim country, which is historically part of the space of the civilization of Europe, but that is not seen geographically and culturally as a natural part of Europe.
In this emotional context, what should Turks do? They have to be patient and imaginative. Their frustrated nationalism will be turned against them by the adversaries of their cause who will be only too happy to denounce the arrogant tone of those who are not yet members of the club and are already “misbehaving.” Turkey has an enormous task in front to change the perceptions of so many Europeans and Frenchmen from the “sick man of the old Europe” to the “healthy man of the New Europe.”

*The writer is a senior adviser at the French Institute for International Relations.

by Dominique Moisi
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