- The Washington Times - Monday, December 16, 2002

Turkey is a rare bird among Muslim nations: a secular democracy. Moreover, it is pro-Western and broadly supports U.S. security interests. Add the fact that it's the natural gateway to the Middle East, and one would think strengthening relations with Turkey would be a top priority throughout the West.
Alas, some European Union nations don't see it that way. At the Dec. 12 conference on EU membership in Copenhagen, the EU rebuffed, yet again, Turkey's decades-long effort to get the ball rolling toward EU membership.
Over the years, the EU has put forth one reason after another for not acting on the Turks' application. There was the country's poor human-rights record, its questionable adherence to democracy, and numerous other cultural and economic objections held by many in the EU.
Turkey has made good faith efforts to address those objections. It has, for instance, passed legislation abolishing the death penalty and granting language rights to its Kurdish minority.
But despite Turkey's responsiveness, the EU has barely budged. Turkey's demand that it be given an accession date in 2003 was rejected out of hand and the EU offered only a tentative "commitment" to set an accession date by December 2004. Even that intermediate step remains contingent on Turkey continuing to implement EU-approved political and human-rights policies.
Why all the foot-dragging by the EU? For starters, there are economic concerns. Applying the EU's Common Agricultural Policy to Turkey's large and relatively poor agrarian economy would break the EU bank. Perhaps more importantly, Turkey would shortly become by virtue of population the largest voting block in the EU, shifting power away from Western European countries such as France and Italy, long accustomed to having a major say in EU policy outcomes. These obstacles and the inherent indecisiveness of the EU, where any one nation can block Turkish accession, make it unlikely that the EU will accept Turkey as a full member any time soon.
Meanwhile, Turkish resentment of EU temporizing grows. Decades of futility, compounded by the EU's tepid appreciation of reforms made, now fuel suspicion on the Turkish "street" that the EU sees itself as a Christian club that will never open its doors to a predominantly Muslim country. The imminent accession of the Republic of Cyprus the half of the island controlled by Greek, not Turkish, Cypriots only adds more fuel to the fire.
Turkey rightly feels singled out. Every other aspiring member of the EU has been given an accession date before meeting all the membership criteria. Indeed, most of the 10 countries invited to join the EU at the just completed Copenhagen conference still have not met all of the criteria. The EU's refusal to give Turkey a firm accession date clearly signals reluctance to consider Turkish membership under any circumstances.
Such faithlessness by the EU could incite popular hostility toward Europe and the West something that could undermine U.S. national security. Should Ankara decide to impress its importance upon shortsighted Europeans, it might well withdraw its support of peace initiatives in Cyprus and rapprochement with Greece and pursue, instead, closer relations with repressive regimes like those in Syria, Libya and Iran. Further, it could obstruct use of NATO assets in Turkey and refuse the U.S. use of its military bases.
America dare not watch idly as Turkey turns away from the West. To forestall the possibility, the U.S. should pressure EU nations to offer Turkey a firm and none-too-distant date for accession talks. Indeed, we should encourage Turkey to turn the tables on the EU, urging them to give Brussels a firm deadline for setting the date.
Regardless of progress toward this goal, America should proceed to strengthen bilateral relations with Turkey by:
Assuring Ankara we will not support a Kurdish state in any post-Saddam settlement involving Iraq.
Expanding joint military exercises and increasing military assistance to better equip and prepare Turkey as an ally in the war on terrorism.
Partially compensating Turkey for economic losses arising from its activities in Afghanistan and curtailed trade with Iraq.
Offering a U.S.-Turkish bilateral trade agreement a free-trade agreement if Turkey decides to withdraw from the EU Customs Union and joins the European Free Trade Area (EFTA).
The U.S. and all of the West have much riding on the EU's dealings with Turkey. Too much, in fact, to let these matters drag out indefinitely or worse resolve themselves unfavorably. The U.S. must step forward to provide Turks both economic and military assurances that they are valued and welcome allies despite EU intransigence.

John C. Hulsman is research fellow for European affairs and Brett D. Schaefer is Jay Kingham fellow in international regulatory affairs at the Heritage Foundation.

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