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Turkey and a new vision for Europe

openDemocracy Opendemocracy
12 December 2007

We are a group of European citizens who are disturbed both by the strength of prejudice in the European Union debate on Turkey's accession, and by setbacks to the reform process in Turkey. We are committed to the success of the European Union as a political project. We also see the urgency of dismantling the remnants of authoritarianism in Turkey. We believe that these two goals are interconnected and that the credible prospect of Turkish membership of the European Union is the best way to achieve them. This, however, requires a different public debate.

This document outlines our case, and invites comment and feedback - as well as support - to encourage this debate.

The context

Turkish accession to the European Union is one of the most critical issues for the future of the EU. The process is still progressing but there is a risk that underlying attitudes are turning against it on both sides.

In oD Today, Anthony Barnett - openDemocracy's founder and a signatory of this document - explains why he supports the initiative

There is still strong support within the EU commission for the project of Turkey's membership of the union. Among large parts of the European population, however, there is a growing sense of insecurity, which appears to be associated with fears about immigration, employment, and the continued enlargement of the EU itself. Such fears can give rise to anti-Muslim and xenophobic attitudes, which express themselves in opposition to Turkish membership.

France's president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has played to this ominous mood, proposing that the question of Turkey's eligibility for membership be reopened - despite the fact that every European council since 1989 has unanimously confirmed Turkey's eligibility for membership. Sarkozy has also made an illegitimate claim that Turkey is Asian and not European, even though it has long been accepted that Turkey meets the political criteria of what it means to be European.

In Turkey, the pro-EU, pro-reform Adalet ve Kalkinma Partisi (Justice & Development Party / AKP) won a big victory in the July 2007 elections. But the AKP government's interest in reforms has been shunted aside by crises over the PKK and Iraq, and it is slow-pedalling on matters such as preventing the harassment of dissidents through Article 301 of the penal code. Nationalist parties in parliament hold the key to reforms to the Turkish constitution. Along the way, the government is losing support among Turkish liberals and is giving arguments to its critics in the EU.

This, then, is the context of our appeal, and of our call for a fresh public debate.

European political leaders - among them Finland's Martti Ahtisaari, Sweden's Carl Bildt, Britain's Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, Germany's Joschka Fischer, Greece's George Papandreou, Italy's Romano Prodi, and Spain's José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero - have all stood up to be counted on the issue of Turkish membership and in opposition to populist prejudice. But there has been insufficient public engagement on the part of prominent opinion-formers.

Among the many articles in openDemocracy's "The future of Turkey" debate:

Fred Halliday, "Turkey and the hypocrisies of Europe" (16 December 2004)

Fadi Hakura, "Europe and Turkey: the end of the beginning" (5 October 2005)

Hrant Dink, "The water finds its crack: an Armenian in Turkey" (13 December 2005)

Murat Belge, "The trials of free speech in Turkey" (6 February 2006)

Daria Vaisman, "Turkey's restriction, Europe's problem" (29 September 2006)

John Palmer, "A commonwealth for Europe" (11 October 2006)

Fadi Hakura, "Europe and Turkey: sour romance or rugby match?" (13 November 2006)

Katinka Barysch, "Turkey and the European Union: don't despair" (27 November 2006)

Hratch Tchilingirian, "Hrant Dink and Armenians in Turkey" (23 February 2007)

Gunes Murat Tezcur, "Turkey divided: politics, faith and democracy" (4 May 2007)

George Schöpflin, "Turkey's crisis and the European Union" (23 July 2007)

Taner Akcam, "Turkey and history: shoot the messenger" (16 August 2007)

Gunes Murat Tezcur, "Turkey's Kurdish challenge" (8 November 2007)

Safa A Hussein, "Turkey's Kurdish tightrope: a view from Iraq" (5 November 2007)

Soner Cagaptay, "Turkey and the Kurds: everybody's problem" (5 November 2007)

We have formed a working group with participants from all over Europe, including Turkey, to monitor and discuss the relationship between Turkey and the European Union. We want to ensure that opinions about Turkish membership are fairly presented and exchanged throughout the continent. There needs to be a dialogue based not on fear and prejudice but on reason and evidence, not on mutual recrimination and accusation but on genuine and thoughtful communication.

The vision

We see Turkey's accession to the European Union as positive both for Turkey and for Europe.

For Turkey, the accession process has proved to be a tool for stimulating domestic reform. Turkey has ended the use of capital punishment; eliminated systemic use of torture; abolished the state of emergency; and brought its military budget under civilian review. There is still much to do: for example, addressing the role of the army, guaranteeing freedom of speech, providing an inclusive framework for all Kurds in Turkey, and demonstrating that Turkey can openly debate painful chapters of history such as the fate of the Armenians in the Ottoman empire.

In late April 2007, the Turkish armed forces issued a thinly-veiled threat to intervene in the election of the president. The Turkish military states that it supports Turkey's EU membership process, yet the military is still unclear whether it intends to abide by European norms concerning democratic and civil oversight. It is also unclear what Turkey's prime minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, means by freedom of expression. He frequently claims that he wants the reforms for the sake of Turkey's citizens, but he has failed to act when bona fide Turkish intellectuals such as Ibrahim Kaboglu, Baskin Oran, Orhan Pamuk and Elif Shafak have been repeatedly dragged to court.

When a Catholic priest and three Protestant missionaries were killed in Turkey, the mayors and governors of the towns where these crimes were committed did not even attend the funerals, nor have there been any initiatives from the government in light of such incidents about how to combat xenophobia in the country. These are all also causes for concern. But they are not arguments against Turkish membership. On the contrary, the accession process offers a perspective for finding cooperative ways to carry out the necessary transformation in Turkish political life; our task is to discuss how this might be done.

For Europe, Turkish membership is equally important, and for far more than its large and dynamic economy. The most important reason is that Turkey offers a bridge to the middle east and a way to assert Europe's political identity. The European Union has always been a peace project; its founders wanted to find a way to bring France and Germany together and to prevent further terrible wars on European soil. The single market and the monetary union were understood as ways to achieve this goal.

The European project received a renewed impetus after the end of the cold war; the union was a vehicle for overcoming the division of Europe and bringing east and west together. Now there is a need to extend the peace project and to prevent the construction of what has been termed the "clash of civilisations". Turkish membership is a way to emphasise Europe as a political project rather than as an ethnic identity. If Turkey is excluded from Europe, there is - as Orhan Pamuk points out - a risk that being European will come to mean "not being Turkish, Kurdish or Muslim". It will feed a regressive mood that associates Europe with Christianity, one that is currently being fuelled by a wave of popular books and films that attack Islam.

In Germany, women of Turkish origin have written about the subordinate position of women in traditional Turkish/Kurdish culture and the prevalence of domestic violence and honour crimes. For them, Turkey and Islam are associated with gender discrimination. Yet the way to deal with gender discrimination is through integration not exclusion. A Europe that tries to define itself in old-fashioned, mythical images, while trying to expel "non-homogeneous" elements, is trying to reverse the flow of history and denying the reality of its own major cities.

The debate about Turkey resonates deeply within the Muslim community in Europe, both as a focal point of Muslim consciousness and of political activity. Muslims in Europe are undergoing what Europe's Muslim media calls "Erdoganisation", after the Turkish prime minister's success in marrying one Muslim tradition with the idea of secular, democratic, pro-European governance. Turkish membership could be critical in engaging Muslims in the European political process and, by so doing, enabling Europe to embrace a pluralistic European identity that includes Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and other religions. A democratic Turkey will refute attempts to portray Islam as anti-democratic and could have ripple effects on the rest of the middle east. That is why Turkish democracy and an inclusive vision of Europe go hand-in-hand.

The questions

We realise that not all of us, our friends, or our fellow citizens - inside the European Union and in Turkey - share this view. We believe that it is important to take their concerns seriously. This includes addressing hard questions about both Turkish society and the European Union.

Among the questions relating to Turkey are:

* Turkish nationalism: is the understanding of the world dominant among the Turkish policy elite less "post-nationalist" than that found in the rest of Europe?

* Turkish understanding of history: is Turkey capable of discussing crimes of the past with its European partners?

* the Kurdish issue: is the trend towards peace or towards more conflict?

* the role of the Turkish military: is it ever going to accept a truly subordinate position, comparable to that of militaries in the rest of the EU?

* the role of Islam in society: is Turkish society, as some Turkish commentators warn, becoming more Islamic and less secular?

* the state of human rights: will Turkey be tolerant of other religions and support full freedom of speech?

Among the questions relating to the European Union are:

* the fairness of the European Union's approach to Turkey: is the EU raising hurdles to be overcome before Turkey join above those that countries like Bulgaria or Romania had to meet?

* is the EU discounting the Copenhagen criteria?

* the EU's policy on Cyprus: why, when Turkish Cypriots voted for the Annan plan (while the Greek part voted against), are they being penalised?* the growing anti-Turkish feeling, especially in France and Germany: is Europe reverting to a racist past ?

We believe that these questions need to be answered. We also believe that they can be answered in a way that meets these concerns in light of current Turkish and European Union realities.

The project

We aim to strengthen both the democratic constituency in Turkey and the cosmopolitan and open vision of the European Union, and to ensure fairness in the treatment of Turkey's EU membership aspirations.

We will hold regular meetings, issue statements and publish on the web to present and amplify these ideas, and circulate arguments that address them in a serious manner. Those who argue that Europe should be Christian, white, and defined by opposition to Islam are not our audience any more than those Turks who are extreme nationalists or religious fundamentalists. However, a larger group of Europeans have genuinely held concerns not based on racism or Islamophobia. They worry that Turkey's eventual EU accession would create more problems than it could solve. Many in Turkey too, including a large part of the Turkish elite, are alienated by what they perceive as patronising and hypocritical attitudes on the part of the European Union. It is these Europeans, including Turkish citizens, that we want to engage.

We will do so inspired by our conviction that the European project is a peace project aimed at overcoming differences. We reject narrow views of European identity as defined in opposition to Islam or Turkey. We believe that the accession of a fully democratic Turkey to the European Union would enrich, not threaten, the European project and would strengthen our common identity.

(signed)

  • Hakan Altinay, Open Society Institute, Istanbul
  • Daniele Archibugi, Italian National Research Council, Rome
  • Anthony Barnett, openDemocracy, London
  • Murat Belge, Helsinki Citizens Assembly, Istanbul
  • Seyla Benhabib, Yale University, New Haven
  • Krzysztof Bobinski, Unia & Polska Foundation, Warsaw
  • Mient Jan Faber, Free University, Amsterdam
  • Judith Herrin, King's College, London
  • Mary Kaldor, London School of Economics, London
  • Paulina Lampsa, Re-public, Athens
  • Giles Merritt, Friends of Europe, Brussels
  • Gian Giacomo Migone, University of Torino, Turin
  • Kalypso Nicolaidis, Oxford University, Oxford
  • Soli Özel, Bilgi University, Istanbul
  • Kristina Persson, Global Challenges, Stockholm
  • Hugh Pope, International Crisis Group, Istanbul
  • Ulrich Preuss, Free University, Berlin
  • Genevieve Schmeder, Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, Paris
  • Mario Soares, Fundação Mário Soares, Lisbon
  • Eduard Soler, CIBOD, Barcelona
  • Antonia Soulez, University of Paris 8, Paris
  • Raimo Väyrynen, Finnish Institute of International Affairs, Helsinki

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