Turkey and the European Union, a Union of Civilizations? By Jan Mortier

by Jan Mortier

On May 13th 2007, the World Political Forum convened the seminar: Borders: Europe and Turkey at the Turin International Book Fair. Discussants included: Giulietto Chiesa Member of the European Parliament, Bernard Guetta, Journalist, France, Gianni Vernetti, Under-Secretary of State of Foreign Affairs for Italy, Mesut Yilmaz, Former Prime Minister of Turkey, Feridun Zaimoglu, Journalist, Turkey and Vittorio Emanuele Parsi, Professor, Universita Cattolica del Sacro Cuore, Milan.

The author took the opportunity to revisit the city of Turin and attend the seminar to observe.

The opinion of this blog post, like that of all others, is solely that of the author and does not purport to represent the views of any aforementioned speaker.

Turkey and the European Union, a Union of Civilizations

By Jan Mortier

The future relationship between Turkey and the European Union has been one of the most controversial themes in the modern history of the European peace system. The potential admission of Turkey and its eighty million Muslim people to our union of five hundred million raises a number of fundamental questions as to the very nature and purpose of the great European work, its future composition, functionality, character, direction and destiny.

Since the early 1960s we have envisaged the potential of the inclusion of Turkey in to the European Union and in 2005 the member states started negotiations with Turkey to that effect, even though these negotiations may take ten to fifteen years due to the required reforms to bring Turkey to a level acceptable to the Copenhagen Criteria, by addressing its social problems and by evolving its legislation. When Turkey does eventually meet the Copenhagen Criteria, the EU member states will be faced with an unavoidable historic choice: to either allow Turkey to join the Union or to turn it away. A decision either way will be irrevocable.

Possible Turkish accession to the European Union must be set in the context of the recent failures to obtain democratic legitimacy for the EU institutional and directional reforms from the people. The rejections of the referendums on the Constitutional Treaty was an expression by the peoples of Europe of their concern at the disconnect between the will of the policymakers and the will of the people. This disconnect in part, had a lot to do with the question of Turkish admission. European public opinion is worried about the entrance of the Turks, about a low-wage job market and about disproportionate job flexibility. Policymakers have a great responsibility in making sure that whatever decision is eventually taken on Turkey’s EU status, that it is one that is based on the needs, interests and security of the Union’s five hundred million citizens as paramount.

Inter-civilizational Questions

In France the debate preceding the rejection of the treaty surrounded such questions as how big must Europe become? How far can it expand geographically, politically and economically? Can Europe really integrate a country as large as Turkey: how many populations and how many cultures must be included in our union?

Even though Turkey has been a good Western country during the Cold War the questions remain: is Turkey European? Is the European Union capable of absorbing eighty million people whose values do not yet correspond to ours? Could the bid for Turkish accession be too premature by decades or a century even? Is Russia not a more European country than Turkey, so should we not bring the Russians in before the Turks? Could the Turkish bid be a wholly unrealistic bid considering the historical acrimonious relationship of Christendom and Islam?

We know that Turkey has a population that is 99 per cent Muslim, so we know their values, but if Europe is a post-Christendom, enlightenment project, should we not properly define our own values first, lest we have others defining them for us, or is it best to continue without doing so and instead adhering to functionalism so as to be sure to never exclude the hopes of the external one day becoming the internal?

Earliest printed example of a classical T and O map (by Guntherus Ziner, Augsburg, 1472)

Earliest printed example of a classical T and O map (by Guntherus Ziner, Augsburg, 1472)

Is Europe the intellectual heir of Christendom or of the Enlightenment or both? And if it is the heir to one or a fusion of both, can the EU really absorb eighty million Muslims? Do the peoples of Europe want their elites to do this on their behalf; was this not a reason for the rejection of the Constitutional and Lisbon treaties? Do we want a European Union that borders Iran, Iraq and Syria, and will it ever be possible for them to accede or stabilize? Is our normative value of the freedom of movement of peoples within the Union applicable and suited also to the implications arising from Turkish accession?

Would Turkey’s accession open the door to an influx into Europe of the poor and huddled masses of the Middle East? Will we have a more secure European Union or a more insecure European Union after a Turkish accession? 

What is the current example of integration and assimilation of Muslims that we already have within Europe? Do Muslims consider themselves as European or as a separate internal civilization benefiting from our hospitality? How well or not, have the current examples of integration faired and to what extent can the already existing internal models be extrapolated and multiplied to model scenarios for potential futures?

Lastly, should we allow the politics of the present, ourselves and inter-civilizational relations to be defined by our historical past and the politics of our ancestors or do we wish to stand on fresh newly tilled ground and strive to look toward a future that is not preordained and a vista of infinite possibilities?

The New European Diplomacy

To decide where we want to go, we have to understand where we have come from. The European Union is as an evolving ever-changing multidimensional metaphysical construct. Europa was incarnated by the European Economic Community in order to stabilize the Franco-German border, to transform a bloody border into something completely different. War and nationalism have been the scourge of Europe and have killed: 184,000 people in the Franco Prussian war, 9 million in the First World War and 40 million in the Second World War. Our systems that were based on nationalism, states and war nearly destroyed European civilization, ravaged our markets and our people and have sucked the rest of the world into our tribal and territorial conflicts. With such destruction it was clear that the old European system was inadequate and that it would only be a matter of time before history would be repeated and with new technology that guaranteed an unimaginable scale of destruction. So a new system based on peace and supranationalism was envisaged and the institutions of Europe were created to put an end to war and herald a new age of peace and prosperity for our people.

In 1957, with the signing of the treaties on the European Economic Community (EEC) and on EURATOM, it was still not possible to foresee in which direction Europe would develop, yet the guiding ethos was always there: world peace. The preamble of the EEC says that Europe should “ensure harmonious development by reducing the differences existing between the various regions and the backwardness of the less-favoured regions”. The intention to let all levels, including the masses, take part in the economic growth of the EEC was the foundation of the rapid development of Europe.

Today no Frenchman regards a German like the French intellectuals used to view their German counterparts in the nineteen twenties and vice-versa. With the fall of the Berlin Wall and German reunification Europe reinvented itself and won a great victory in demonstrating that Europe again was a profoundly effective force for stabilization. This was possible because enlargement corresponded to the strategic aim of the need to stabilize central Europe. German reunification was therefore an internal border issue, not an external one. So in looking at Turkey perhaps we should consider it as an internal border issue rather than an external one?

The Founding Fathers of Europe had been very wise in not proclaiming the limits of the European Community neither towards the east nor towards the west. The borderlines of the member states and thus the Union were lines appropriate for the political and economic moment. Europe was and is an evolving and unfolding process of creation, a work in progress. The European Community demonstrated its strength in the conviction that the division of its resources would, at the same time, bring a growth of the resources themselves. In this way Portugal, Spain and Greece had the opportunity that allowed them to recover much faster from the aftermath of their dictatorships. Europe extended exactly the same function to the eastern states that were unshackled from communism – only as a result of this was a growing atmosphere of steady enthusiasm and peace created between Latvia and Hungary.

Borders are inventions and, just like all human inventions, they are extremely real and produce many more consequences than natural things do. Do we want to put a border on the past or on the future? Do we want to close the door to the future, considering the relationship between Turkey and Europe during the past centuries? Do we wish to remain in the mindset of defining what Europe is according to its past and what Turkey is according to its past?

Or instead, do we want to be open to the future and to try to understand what Europe is according to what it can become and what Turkey is according to what it can become? Furthermore, what would the world be like if in relations between civilizations and states, diplomacy could genuinely put aside historical animosity and cultural memory and focus purely on the issues at hand with a view to working toward attaining an improved future for all? This surely is the example of the new European diplomacy and the new post-modern European multilateralism and an example that the world can learn from.

From the Atlantic to the Riphean Mountains, the Home of the European Spirit

St Istvan I Church, Budapest. Former frontline between Christendom & Islam.

St Stephen I Church, Budapest. Former frontline between Christendom & Islam. (Photo taken by author 2007)

Charles de Gaulle once spoke of a Europe as a continent that stretched “from the Atlantic to the Urals”. Geographically, one may observe where the true borders of the continent of Europe lie, not of the Union, but of the landmass, the natural borders of the continent excepting the North Pole, are the Atlantic and the Mediterranean. The question then arises about whether the Eastern geographical border of Europe is in fact the Urals, known as the Riphean Mountains in Greco-Roman antiquity, or indeed the Pacific Ocean, assuming that Siberia will remain Russian and that Russia is a country desirent of one day returning to its common European political home.

It was Valery Giscard d’Estaing who once said that “Turkey does not correspond to the European Spirit” much like Charles de Gaulle said when vetoing Britain’s application to join the European Community in 1967: Britain “is not a European country”. Charles de Gaulle was no lover of supranationalism nor a loyalist to his British liberators. His political vision failed to transcend the short term national interest and look to the longer term enlightened interest of the bigger picture. His second veto was inflicted at a unique British political moment: Harold Wilson had the support of British public opinion, his Cabinet in government and of the three main political parties in Parliament. The damage that was wrought by de Gaulle’s two vetoes for Britain’s two applications to join the European Community was, according to Sir Steven Wall; “a huge national humiliation.” The opportunity to welcome an enthusiastic Britain to the European Community was squandered, and the humiliating rejection turned the people of Britain away from the big European idea, the repercussions of which are still evident in the British public mind today towards Europe and are likely to remain for some time, unless the parliamentarians muster the backbone to have a real conversation with the people about the European Union.

If Turkey is now experiencing a British 1966 moment of public hope and warmth toward the European idea, what will be the future implications of EU –Turkish and Western-Muslim relations of turning away eighty million hopeful Turks from the world’s most significant political peace project?

If Valery Giscard d’Estaing is correct about Turkey not corresponding to the European spirit, then we must look to where this ‘European Spirit’ originates. The philosopher Remi Brague said that “Europe was built on something that was already there”, Assuming that ancient Greece is the intellectual and spiritual root of European Civilization, then the European character of Turkey is confirmed as the personifications of the educated sprit: Democritus, Diogenes, Hereclitus and Taletes, were all born in the territory of Asia Minor which is today part of Turkey. Even in considering Europe’s heritage as that being derived from Christendom, we must acknowledge that it was the mediation of Anatolia that allowed the Christian religion to spread westward to the land that is now the territory of the European Union.

Cold Turkey, Western or European?

Turkey was a good Western country during the Cold War and stood on the frontlines of freedom against communism. The Turkish role in the defence of freedom is acknowledged in the annals of history and the West will always be thankful to Turkey and considers Turkey as one of its own. Turkey has become increasingly integrated with the West through membership in organisations such as the Council of Europe (1949), NATO (1952), OECD (1961), OSCE (1973) and the G20 industrial nations (1999). Turkey began full membership negotiations with the European Union in 2005, having been an associate member since 1963, and having reached a customs union agreement in 1995.

The reason for this decision in the 1960s even before Europeans had begun to discuss this with Turkey was because of Turkey’s status in the Atlantic alliance. It is of great political importance that Turkey is a NATO ally, a military political alliance that has been transformed from its Cold War function into stabilizing crisis regions and increasingly becoming the armed wing of the United Nations, now able to realise UN resolutions as in the case of Afghanistan.

Geographically Turkey is not an Atlantic country, so the term Atlantic must be understood in the context of “Atlantic values”, a common value system of the western democracies united against the Soviet Union. Thus Atlantic values transcended Atlantic geography. Post Cold War there is no ideological conflict with a soviet bloc, but there is a virtual schism between the West and fundamentalist Islam, and Turkey will most likely be the crucible where the future relations of the Western and Islamic civilizations are determined.

The question then arises is there a compatibility between Islam and universal values propounded by the West? It would be a mistake of historical proportions were we Europeans as defenders of universal norms to believe that there is no compatibility between Islam and our values, by rejecting Turkey because it is a Muslim state. This would do irreparable damage in the eyes of Muslims the world over for centuries to come and create a global fault line between two great civilizations.

America is a strong supporter of Turkish accession to the European Union, not least for Turkey’s role during the Cold War. But the question of potential Turkish accession is one that should be decided and negotiated by Europeans alone, as this momentous decision, either way, will permanently affect the future of Europe, and will be irrevocable. Europe has a common heritage with the USA, having been the parent of the American civilization and being helped by its child in the rebuilding of post WWII Europe. But Europe needs to ask: Does US support for Turkish accession to the EU stem from a genuine enthusiasm to see Europa expand her realm of peace and take her rightful seat at the world table to guide human civilization to a more enlightened state of reason and common destiny? Or, is it based on using the EU as a subservient tool of US foreign policy that might create a divided Europe? From a country that allowed Donald Rumsfeld to attempt to divide through discourse a loyal Europe that had invoked Article V of the NATO Treaty to help the USA, into ‘Old’ and ‘New Europe’ should we Europeans ponder a scenario in which Turkish accession to the EU might cause such fundamental internal problems and divisions for Europe that she might be prevented from looking out to the world stage by being constantly preoccupied with the internal and, thereby not being ever able to challenge the other world powers? Moreover, why should not Europe one day be in a position to challenge any world power? Europe is, after all the leading model for peace.

Whatever the answer, it is clear that the decision to either integrate Turkey into the European Union or not, is a question for the Europeans and Turkey alone to negotiate and decide.

From the External to the Internal – Europa’s Post-modern Path to Peace

The attempt to impose democracy on Iraq has resulted in conflagration, over 600, 000 people killed, the destabilisation of the global order, a new global political crisis and arms racing by insecure states exceeding even the levels of expenditure at the height of the Cold War.

Europe can offer the world a better model and one that works. True and sustainabldevelopment can only be achieved through the Venusian post-modern European method based on dialogue, inclusion and peaceful co-existence, not through a primitive mindset that advocates only the use of force. It is because the European Union is not a state that it is able to promote democracy through its post-modern multilayered complex constructs. The EU sets such a good working example of a working peace system that others are willing to totally change their societies and legal systems to come up to par with ours through emulation, and thereby qualify for accession to the EU.

This revolutionary post-modern way of change through emulation is impossible for America to do, as America is a state that has become an empire. It is therefore tethered to statist and imperial structures and thinking. The paradox is that because America is a state empire it is only able to govern in a statist imperial way that necessitates the preservation of its power and its state. This explains why the American model of exporting democracy in its neighbourhood and around the world is neither workable nor permanent. America is unable to evolve to the post-modern system.

The EU method however, offers a new workable ideal for others to aspire to, and creates a gravitational well, where states and peoples are freely drawn to become like us and unite with us. The external thus wills itself to become the internal, so that the internal continuously expands to include the external, by no other force except desire. Europa thus offers the possibility of an infinite internal dimension and the universal end of the external. It is no wonder that the emerging multipolarities of the world are turning away from the American model and looking toward the European post-modern model, with the hope of one day becoming our internal.

From the Ottomans to Atatürk and Today

Turkey is our external, but is increasingly becoming our internal. Since the mid-nineteenth century yearnings of the Ottoman Empire towards Europe, to be integrated into Europe and to incorporate European values, to Mustafa Kemel (Atatürk)’s revolution and the end of the Ottoman Empire, post war Turkey and the Turkey of the last fifteen years have not diminished the will of the Turkish mind to be European.

The Battle of Mohacs (1526) by Bertalan Székely. The Ottoman conquest of Hungary.

The Battle of Mohacs (1526) by Bertalan Székely. The Ottoman conquest of Hungary.

During the nineteenth century when the great European nations spent their time making war on each other, Turkey was then known as the “sick man of Europe”, not of Asia. Turkey at that time, was synonymous with the Ottoman Empire. An empire that stretched from Central Asia to Algeria and which included Tunisia, Egypt and the whole of the near-east region.

In the XIX century and in the 1856 Paris Treaty, the Ottoman king was explicitly acknowledged as a European superpower and moreover had the legal duty to protect his Christian subjects. Following in a similar normative vein Turkey was also one of the first countries to join the European Convention on Human Rights.

Modern Turkey is the country which was born in 1923 with Mustafa Kemal (Atatürk)’s Republic. It is a civic, unitary and secular state. Being Turkish after Atatürk’s Republic means believing in the political project of Atatürk; it does not mean being born in Anatolia, being Muslim or being heirs of the Ottoman Empire. Atatürk dissolved the Caliphate and by giving Turkey secular institutions, he broke with the past to open the way to the modern Turkey.

Within Turkish political life there have been a number of positive developments. Over the last few years, there has been great progress in the field of human rights and democracy. There has been adherence to the Copenhagen Criteria – the European standards of political, civil an market freedoms, a fundamental requirement in order to continue dialogue with the EU. Turkey has abolished capital punishment, initiated a stronger control of the power of the army, and radically modified the rights of the Kurdish people.

A recent visit to Italy by the President of Iraq, the Leader of the Iraqi Kurds and the President of the autonomous Kurdish region in Iraq, confirmed the improvement of relations between the Kurdish nation and Turkey, which is indicative of Turkey’s overwhelming desire to be integrated completely into Europe.


The juridical and technical adaptations to the European common market has cost Turkey fifty milliard euro while the financial support that was promised from Brussels was reduced to one eighth of what was originally promised. Half of all Turkish foreign commerce is with EU states; the Turkish public’s purchasing power has at its disposal more than thirty milliard euro per year. The medium economic growth of Turkey is also 8 per cent, surpassing many EU states, although forecast by the World Bank to decline. Turkey’s population of eight million has a 10.3 per cent rate of unemployment.


A poll within Turkey ten days before the World Political Forum seminar, said that 80 per cent of Turkish people interviewed in that poll believed that entrance into the European Union is of fundamental importance to their country, 75 per cent felt that the EU is a model project of civilization, and 75 per cent feel that democracy, the rule of law, respect for human rights and the market economy is the path that the country should follow.

According to a 2008 report prepared for the National Security Council of Turkey by academics of three Turkish universities in eastern Anatolia, Turkey’s population includes: approximately 50 to 55 million ethnic Turks, 12,5 million Kurds (including 3 million Zazas), 2,5 million Circassians (Adige), 2 million Bosniaks, 1,3 million Albanians, 1 million Georgians, 870,000 Arabs, 700,000 Roma, 600,000 Pomaks, 80,000 Laz, 60,000 Armenians, 20,000 Jews, 15,000 Greeks and 13,000 Hemshins living in Turkey. Nominally, 99 per cent of the Turkish population is Muslim of whom over 75 per cent belong to the Sunni branch of Islam and 20 per cent to the Shi’a Alevi branch.


According to Wikipedia, there is a strong tradition of secularism in Turkey, which is essentially similar to the French model of laïcité. The state has no official religion nor promotes any, and actively monitors the area between the religions. The constitution recognises the freedom of religion for individuals, whereas religious communities are placed under the protection of the state; but the constitution explicitly states that they cannot become involved in the political process (by forming a religious party, for instance) or establish faith-based schools. No party can claim that it represents a form of religious belief; nevertheless, religious sensibilities are generally represented through conservative parties. Turkey prohibits by law the wearing of religious head cover and theo-political symbolic garments for both genders in government buildings, schools, and universities; this law was upheld by the Grand Chamber of the European Court of Human Rights as “legitimate” in the Leyla Şahin v. Turkey case on November 10, 2005.

Military and Civil Power

Since Atatürk’s revolution, the Turkish system has been upheld by two pillars: institutional secularism and the role of the armed forces. Today these pillars are threatened by two phenomena that are external to the internal Turkish political culture. One is radical Islamism that menaces institutional secularism. The other pillar is the prospect of entering the European Union, which threatens the role of the army because one of the basic principles of democracy is that the civil power has control and oversight of the military power.

It is inconceivable that a member state of the European Union should have a military power greater than the civil power. Yet it may be that the current secular nature of Turkey is being preserved only by the power of the military (one million men at arms) that threatens to remove any radical religious government, or one that does not conform to the military’s interpretation of Atatürk’s secular principles. If the power of the Turkish military is to become properly subservient to the civil power as is a requirement of European norms, than we may risk the rise of a radical Islamist state within the European Union. We may suppose that Turkey, like the former Soviet Union and the Former Yugoslavia is merely a structure of force that suppresses frozen conflicts and tension that will inevitably unravel and explode.

It would be safest for all were Turkey to undergo its total societal change and then co-exist with the EU through a period of prolonged and proven stability to see if secularism holds before EU accession. For as to allow either a Turkey governed by the military or a Turkey governed by radical Islamic parties to enter or exist within the European Union would be contrary to all our fundamental principles, norms and values. Turkey should not also falsely hope that joining the European Union will be a panacea for its radical Islamist problem. Secularism and the means or will to preserve it, or not, is not a question for the EU to ordain, it is one that the Turkish people must decide.

With this in mind the sophisticated experimental attempt of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Abdullah Gül in imposing ‘a moderate Islam’ on the country, emulating the previous Italian model of a ‘Christian Democracy’ as a means to propose some values in politics by which to transcend the authoritarian secularism and avoid the fundamentalism. Is a positive step on the right direction and should be encouraged by the European Union.

If the Turkish Muslim moderates are genuinely moderate and the secularisation process is positive, we would have for the first time the possibility of building an international coalition of the moderate Islamic parties within the European Union – just like the socialist or the popular ones – and it would have a positive influence on the moderate Islamic parties that, step by step, will probably rise in France, Germany, Italy and the UK.

EU Expansion and Contraction: Europa Breathing

The author recalls a seminar on Europe at a bank in Germany where the chairman of the bank called for a respite in the expansion of Europe so that Europe “could be consolidated”. Such a process might be likened to the natural breathing of the lungs, or beating of the heart, where each time Europe expands she must then afterward, look inward to consolidate before taking the next breath to expand once again. When looking at the long term future of Europe, the rejections of the Constitutional and Lisbon Treaties are not of that great a concern. True, there are urgent internal functional matters that need addressing, – not least the strata needed to deal with climate change – and some institutional functionalities that need modernising for a Europe of twenty-seven. But most of these could be implemented if agreed at the Ministerial level, in single issue based agreements, the institutional dressing and peacocking of Europe is not so important as the quality of her work. A Europe that now looks like it is not to expand again for some time may be a good thing.

Europa must take a breath between expansions, she must consolidate her realm, there is much work to be done in addressing the poverty within the European Union and building proper bridges between the people – both horizontally and vertically – that are at present quite tenuous, before racing ahead to include others still, who will no doubt come to Europa’s Common European House in good time, one day. But patience and faith in time, as well as a period of self-introspection and self-improvement not only for Europa, but for those wishing to suckle from her breast, might also prove a virtuous respite during the great exhalation that will ultimately produce a fresher air from which all can breathe.

The Future: Turkey a Mediator between Civilizations?

It is the authors conjecture that a new thinking is required in the question of Turkish accession to the EU, as this is more than an issue of just economics, intergovernmental relations and peoples. It is a question of the most historic proportions, the peaceful and permanent integration of two of the world’s great civilizations into one new civilization that has the potential to alter the course of world history for the greater good. If the European Union is among other things, a regional security community, and if expanding the Union to include Turkey would create European borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria, then Turkey will become either the crucible or the fault line of the two civilizations, moreso than it is today where it serves as a secularist buffer, keeping chaos at bay from our Union. If we do not want to draw the next border of the European Civilization through Rumelia or the Bosphorus but wish to extend it to include Mount Ararat and edge closer to Jerusalem, does that mean that there forever our borders must fall, for to internalize the conflicts of the Middle East may be too much for Europa, even with all her benign generosity, to absorb? Or, should we prepare for an even grander and bolder vision of the future, that of bringing Monnet’s vision of peace to our neighbours in the Middle East?

Does the answer then lie in creating a grand security community for the Middle East, a Middle Eastern Security Community (MESC), with a Single Currency, a Parliamentary Assembly, a Commission for policy, and a Council for states? Turkey has played a significant role in the NATO-Euro Mediterranean partnership with Morocco, Egypt, Algeria, Tunisia, Israel, Mauritania and Jordan which demonstrates the positive results of adherence to the values of the European Union and the leading role Turkey can play in the region and in a future Middle Eastern Security Community. Turkey would be a full member of a MESC and continue in its 1963 associated membership of the European Union, but with increased privileges and trade freedoms with the EU.

Turkey would become the grand mediator between the two civilizations, with a new supranational institution like the Council of Europe composed of parliamentarians and representatives from Europe and the Middle East established on its territory, the conjunction also of the great continents, that would fulfil a role in facilitating dialogue between and the bringing together of the two civilizations, establishing a permanent seat for the discourse between the peoples of Europe and of the Middle East, to promote human rights, peace and the rule of law.

The Turkish and European political projects

If we set out from the assumption that Turkey is a political project, just like the European Union is, logically then, the difficulties that we face now do not come from cultural or religious questions, but from a very precise question: How can Turkey’s political project enter into the European political project? How can the new Turkey become a European civic nation, just like Portugal or Greece did?

In making this small cognitive leap, we realise that the ideas we have on what Turkey is and what Europe is are misconceptions. The European Union is a civic nation at least at the organisational level. We belong to the European Union as a political body, just as much as the Romans belonged to Rome. It is a political choice, not a biological or cultural question.

Nicolas Sarkozy’s opinion and comments with regard to Turkey being an “Asian country and not European” are unhelpful and are damaging the bonds between Turkey and the European Union and consequentially: Islam and the West. His recent alterations to the French constitution, requiring a French parliamentary majority for approval of new accession states to the European Union might also be interpreted as a further attempt to thwart future Turkish accession.

Fear blinds people to nuances and differences. And the fear of Islam should not blind us to the intricacies of the historical implications that a decision either way to accession will entail for the future of the Union and indeed, the new world civilization. We must remember that Turkey is not an Arab country, its relations with the Arab world are defined by its history of colonial domination of the Arabs for a century and there is deep resentment and distrust between Arab-Turkish relations. Turkey has also been an officially secular country for nearly ninety years.

Perhaps our relations with Turkey are also blinded by our own insecurities, those with regard to global Islam and the challenge it presents to us, to our internal insecurities: Namely, that of how are we going to govern ourselves in our Union and our planet: are we going to govern ourselves supranationally, in constructs and complex multidimensional dynamics yet to emerge, or are we going to remain with the nation state method which the people are still quite psychologically attached too? Perhaps our hardening toward Turkey is that we fear newcomers, as newcomers force us to look closely at ourselves and examine our own faults as we react to them.

We should continue to lay the foundation for cooperative and integrative mechanisms with Turkey that will prevent us from once again shutting out Turkey. We must continue the work to harmonize the European and Turkish political projects. We must remember that the reason that Turkey is reforming and improving is the prospect (held out by us) of eventual EU accession, so we must ask ourselves what possible interest we might have in slapping the face of the Turkish people and humiliating them as de Gaulle did to Britain when all that Turkey is asking from us is that our values may also become theirs?

Conclusion: A Union of Two Civilizations of Global Consequence?

If we look at the European Union as a functional project, the aim of which, is to promote stability and peace and remove the clouded spectacles of inter-civilizational distinctions along the lines of religion and race and accept people as equal worth the world over, then observing the reverse outcome of the so called ‘clash of civilizations’, a permanent union between the Western and Islamic civilizations through Turkish accession to the European Union would be: potentially all Muslims the world over looking to the example of a prosperous and peaceful democratic Muslim state that has been welcomed and accepted into the bosom of the most advanced and enlightened working peace system in the world, the European Union.

The advantages of a decision to welcome Turkey would be avoiding giving the impression that Europe is a white Christian fortress, demonstrating that a real multicultural civilization exists within our Union, which is founded on common political values. Having a Turkey that accepts these political points – a Turkey which is secular but also democratic – would be an advantage for us.

We must never forget that borders – no matter how mechanised and technically controlled they may be – become permeable. Hiding behind them to enjoy in solitude the comfort and security from others is not a good position. Sooner or later Europe will have to make up its mind and use part of its wealth for building and sustaining areas of steady peace beyond its borders. Only in this way will Europa succeed in developing herself further and steadily in the future.

One might argue that it is in our interest to answer Turkish expectations, to deny to the Islamists the wood for their fire of hate, and to transform Turkey into a beacon for democratic and liberal values by transcending the mindset that chooses to perceive religious borders and clashes of civilizations. It would prove to the Islamists that they are not right, that the rule of just law and values are universal and can transcend religious difference.

The implications for such an epoch altering historical event are clear; this union of civilizations would chart a new course for world history and would alter the mindset of the Ummah that so far sees the West as the enemy. The thought would be seeded in billions of Muslim minds that perhaps they too can one day live in peace as we do in the West as they look to a European Union that includes Turkey, a West that includes Islam not as a minority population but as a member state, as the example of the possibility for the benevolence of governance and the unassailable virtue of Europa who extends the hand of peace and promise of prosperity to those who join with her in her historic world destiny in the pursuit of ever growing peace.

Jan Mortier, Civitatis