- The Washington Times - Monday, May 31, 2004

In a recent interview in Ankara, Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul outlined his vision of what membership in the European Union would mean for his nation and the world. Turkey hopes to receive in December a date to begin formal talks to join the European Union. This would “prove that Turkey is fulfilling the fundamental standards of democracy, human rights, transparency,” Mr. Gul said, and it would send the following message: “You can be a Muslim country and compatible with the modern world. This is going to be the biggest gift to world peace.” Mr. Gul also said Turkey hopes to play a constructive role in narrowing the post-Iraq war rift between the United States and some European countries.

The United States sounded a similar note by inviting Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan to next week’s G-8 meeting in Georgia. The White House said it will discuss how Turkey can support democracy in the Middle East and beyond. While Ankara and Washington disagree on some strategies for building democracies, Mr. Erdogan has the opportunity to influence policy by participating.

Britain also has put its weight behind Turkey’s EU bid. British Prime Minster Tony Blair recently visited Ankara, and has said that Turkey would gain geo-political stature by joining the union and playing an important role in its neighborhood. Perhaps more importantly, Turkish Europeans could help moderate Europe’s increasingly embittered Muslim minorities, through their broad recognition of the benefits of democracy.

For its part, Ankara has reached out to smaller players in Europe, such as Bulgaria and Romania, which are expected to become EU members in 2007. Both countries recently expressed support for Turkey’s efforts to join the union. Meanwhile, Mr. Erdogan visited Romania last month, and has planned a trip to Bulgaria for next month.

While the union stands to gain strategically by making Turkey a member, it would face challenges. Turkey would become a net recipient of EU funds for an undetermined period, and an influx of Turkish workers could affect the EU economy — concerns most stridently voiced by France.

Turkey’s U.S. and European supporters should continue the discourse and support Turkey’s methodical diplomatic outreach. The constructive role that Turkey could play as an EU member is critically important for the United States and Europe.

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