Coded gray.

Wednesday 5 October 2005

Turkish flag in EU colors

Turkey & the EU

Turkey has finally started negotiations with the European Union about joining. This is a pretty momentous event in world history. Twice before (in the Middle Ages) Turkey has been stopped by Vienna (Wien), when they tried to conquer Europe. It was very close that they had been stopped again when they now came in peace. Austria (where Vienna is the capital city) wanted to veto their access, but were dissuaded by its traditional allies. The Austrians had tacit support in France and Germany, which want an "ever deeper union", a United States of Europe. And let's face it, Turkey would fit in less there than Mexico would in the USA. Mexico at least is Christian; Turkey is Muslim. It would also extend the EU's frontier to Iraq, Iran and Syria. That's pretty creepy in itself to some.

So far in its history the EU has never rejected membership to a state after formal negotiations have started, though the process may take 10 years or more. Generally, the faster the applicant complies with EU standards, the sooner it will join. However, in the case of EU there may be other barriers. In addition to the bad reputation of Islam lately, there is the economic distance. Turkey may be reasonably well off compared to other large Muslim countries, but by European standards it is still dirt poor. Add the sheer size of the country and its population, and it becomes obvious that Turkey would swallow pretty much all of the EU's infrastructure funds for a generation or more.

These regional development funds have been among the EU's greatest successes. Formerly poor countries such as Spain, Portugal and Eire have grown dramatically after joining the Union. The Irish Republic in particular has gone from poor backwater to one of Europe's greatest successes. Spain, Portugal and Greece are still net receivers of regional aid, and have a hard enough time adapting to the idea that Eastern Europe will be the new area of investment. If the EU is to try to integrate Turkey as well, these states will go from net receivers to net donors, and probably by a noticeable amount too, unless the richer northern states are to pay a significantly higher solidarity tax.

The Turks are generally more positive to the new development. After all, who doesn't want a lot more money? But there is still worry that the nation's culture and religion may suffer. After all, if the EU develops into a United States of Europe, and with hundreds of millions of Christians inside its borders, there is no guarantee that it will stay neutral in religious matters forever. The USA for instance has turned noticeably more overtly Christian in less than a generation. What if it happened in Europe?

But these worries are probably premature. After two nations torpedoed the supposed constitution of the Union, the progress of integration is likely to come to a screeching halt. Absorbing the new members in Eastern Europe is already likely to turn the EU into more of a free trade zone than a "superstate" anyway, and even negotiations with Turkey will strengthen this view of the Union. In fact, this may be one reason why the traditionally EU-cautious Britain is in favor of the enlargement. Turkey is quite interested in free trade, but will no doubt do whatever it can to avoid becoming just a vaguely defined province in a giant Eurasian "melting pot". This is exactly how the British think as well, and the Nordic countries for the most part.

If we look back at history, both the Greek and the Roman empires included what is now Turkey. In fact, the Roman empire endured there for pretty much the whole Middle Ages, after the west had fallen to the barbarians a millennium before. While Turkey today is overwhelmingly Muslim, the history of the region until a few hundred years ago is squarely in the middle of our European civilization. It is not a big stretch of the imagination to think that it could happen again.

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