- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2002

Who is the perfect European? Well, as the old joke has it, it is someone who combines the punctuality of the Italians, the charm of the Germans, the cooking skills of the British, the modesty of the French, the extravagance of the Dutch, the humility of the Spanish and a Swedish sense of humor.

The question of European identity, however, has acquired serious new dimensions in the past week as has the related question: Where does Europe end? To the north, south and west, the continent's borders are clearly defined. It is to the East that lies uncertainty, and potential instability.

In Copenhagen last week, EU leaders started to define the answers to these questions. Eight countries of the former socialist East Bloc were invited to join the wealthy union of Western European democracies. This is an acknowledgement they belong to Europe, by history, culture and political and economic structure if their citizens approve the move in referendums to be held next year, that recognition that will be final by May 2004.

In Copenhagen, invitations were extended to the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia, as well as the two Mediterranean islands of Cyprus and Malta. The decision comes less than a month since NATO leaders meeting in Prague many of them the same people invited seven more countries in Central and Eastern Europe to join the Alliance. Together, the twin decisions go a long way towards smoothing over the fissures in Europe created by the continent's post-war division and the Cold War that followed.

But who was not invited at the Copenhagen summit was almost as important as who was included. Albania and most republics of the former Yugoslavia are still outside. So are Ukraine, Belarus and Moldova, not to mention Russia, all of which have geographical claims to being European, or partly European.

More significantly, however, Turkey was rebuffed, a country with memories of an empire, a foothold in Europe and a population of 67 million. Turkey has been in a customs union with the European Union since 1995, and EU membership has been the goal of successive Turkish governments. Turkey's present government had set its hopes on a date of 2003 for accession talks, only to be placed on probation once again until 2004. By then, so it was decided in Copenhagen, its progress on democratization and human rights will be evaluated once again with a view to starting talks in 2005. Of course, between now and then, much can happen.

Turkey had strong American support for its application. Indeed, the pressure applied to European governments by the Bush administration was described by some European diplomats as the most intense they had ever experienced. With Turkey a valuable member of the NATO alliance and indispensable for military action in Iraq, it is very much in the interest of the U.S. government to keep Ankara happy. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as some might view it), the United States is not a member of the European Union, and the Europeans dug in their heels when it came to Turkey's application, refusing to do the U.S. bidding.

All of which brings us back to the question "What is Europe?" If it is the embodiment of an idea of a set of political principles and democratic values, similar to those that form the political foundation of the United States, there is no reason why Turkey or anyone else cannot join the European Union when its political and economic system is mature enough. These values are enshrined in the so-called "Copenhagen criteria" for new EU candidates, named after the 1993 EU summit in Copenhagen at which they were adopted.

However, a lot of Europeans see the question of Turkey's membership quite differently. Otherwise dedicated to the proposition of erasing national and ethnic boundaries within Europe, many EU supporters draw the line at Muslim Turkey with its large and fast-growing population and its geographic location between Europe and Asia. Former French President Valery Giscard D'Estaing, who heads the committee that is now writing the new European constitution, expressed it bluntly in an interview. Turkey has "a different culture, a different approach," he said, "It is not a European country … In my opinion, [Turkish membership] would be the end of the European Union."

"Europe is a continent, an Asian appendix, with a Christian faith," so Nikolau Lobkowicz, director of the Center for the Study of Europe at the University of Eichstatt, Germany, said recently at a conference on EU enlargement organized by the Italian Fondazione Liberal. "Western and Central Europe have always been part of Catholicism and free from the Ottoman Empire. To this, they all owe their European character." This does not sound hopeful for the Turks.

Whether or not Turkey eventually becomes a member, the nature of the European Union will of necessity become a different kind of entity with the accession of the 10 new members, many of whom are decidedly more friendly towards the United States than its present membership. On this point, we could see change for the better.

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