- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 19, 2004

NICOSIA, Cyprus — Turkey continues to push its case for admission to the European Union, undaunted by a poor turnout for recent elections to the European Parliament, in which sitting governments were almost universally rebuffed.

The theme of the Ankara government of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan is: “We are the progressive and modern face of Islam.”

“We have demonstrated that a country with an overwhelmingly Muslim population can turn its face to and integrate with the Western world,” Mr. Erdogan said.

In political and editorial statements, the Turks say they have demonstrated that Islam and democracy are not incompatible and warned that a European refusal to open accession talks in December seriously could damage Turkey’s relations with the Continent.

Although opinion polls across Europe indicate opposition to Turkish membership in the recently expanded and predominantly Christian union of 25 member states, EU officials urge acceptance, saying Turkey has been making both political and economic progress.

The Turks are bitterly aware of the extent of the opposition to their candidacy. The Istanbul Hurriyet daily wrote that “No to Turkey” is a popular slogan “in election leaflets and brochures of some political parties.”

Only 5 percent of Turkey’s territory and 15 percent of its population of 66 million are on the European side of the Bosporus Strait. Turkey’s ambition to join the European Union is strongly backed by the United States, which sees Turkey as a stabilizing factor in one of the world’s most volatile regions.

The EU Executive Commission recently described Turkish reforms as “really impressive,” but cautioned that “areas of concern remain.” The union plans to issue a definitive assessment of Turkish qualifications in October.

Turkey’s European ambitions have not been dampened by the European elections of last week, in which only 45.3 percent of the electorate voted and largely favored opposition parties.

The turnout was even lower in the formerly communist countries in Eastern and Central Europe, reflecting a mood of apathy and skepticism.

The outcome cast doubt on the prospects for the ratification of the European constitution that was adopted Friday, and even on the further expansion of the European Union.

The leftist Istanbul Cumhuriyet daily wrote last week: “Iraq’s invasion by the United States has turned Turkey into one of the most important countries in world politics. … Turkey is basically determined to adopt the EU’s legal norms, but there is a possibility that Turkey will be asked to make new political concessions.”

The newspaper warned against the Bush administration’s ambitious “Greater Middle East Project,” saying, “We should tell the world before it is too late that this will also fail like many other schemes Washington devised for the Middle East.”

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