- The Washington Times - Friday, December 17, 2004

The European Union made the historic decision to in effect allow Turkey to become a bonafide member. That decision will be felt far beyond the borders of Europe.

At an EU summit in Brussels, European leaders set Oct. 3 to start formal entry talks, which would pave the way for membership. Up until now, Turkey has been brought close to, but not quite inside, the European fold. In 1963, Turkey signed an association agreement with the European Union’s precursor, the European Community. That deal, broadly recognized as a glorified trade deal, appeared to imply the possibility of eventual full membership. As it turned out, that possibility would come only much, much later. In 1996, Turkey forged a “customs union” with the European Union and only in 1999 was Turkey accepted as an official candidate for EU membership.

The challenges for Europe in integrating Turkey are material, cultural and symbolic, as are the benefits. Turkey, with its population of about 72 million, is projected by 2025 to have the largest population in the union. That, combined with its relative poverty, means it would be a net recipient of EU subsidies. The per capita income in Turkey is about $4,000, a fraction of the EU average. A study prepared for the European Commission found that, as an EU member, Turkey could receive between $20.2 billion and $34.2 billion in annual subsidies starting in 2025.

Then there are the social issues. The Turks who move into EU countries will at times collide on cultural and religious terms with other Europeans, as has already been the case. The cold-blooded slaying in Holland of film director Theo van Gogh by radical Muslim terrorists in Holland has brought those concerns to the fore.

Europe, though, will probably be protected from a massive influx of Turkish workers, because a safegaurd clause would restrict the numbers of Turkish migrants in times of economic difficulty. Turkey has also been steadily improving economically since its 2001 crisis. Since then, it has had annual growth rates of 5 to 8 percent and its exports have more than doubled since 2000. Its national debt has fallen from 94 percent of GDP to 70 percent.

It is also clear that the prospect of EU membership has pushed Turkey forward. Although the legendary Mustafa Kemal Ataturk put the country on the path to secular democracy in the early 1900s, its difficult to believe Turkey would have made the democratic and human-rights strides it has made in recent years without an EU carrot. Europe is expected to continue to change Turkey. That expected reform will take place on Iraq’s, Iran’s and Syria’s borders. The start of formal talks may illustrate to the Middle East and beyond the benefits of democratic progress.

Accession negotiations with Turkey will likely last at least 10 years. By setting a date for talks, the process has already begun, and the world will be watching.

Supporting the troops

There are plenty of ways to help U.S. servicemen overseas this holiday season, even with Christmas a few days away. Just ask 15-year-old Shauna Fleming of Anaheim Hills, Calif. Shauna started a wartime letter-writing campaign last spring in her high school that turned into something extraordinary. The campaign recently topped 1 million letters to soldiers with the aid of her Web site (www.amillionthanks.org). In a ceremony at the White House to commemorate the millionth letter, President Bush thanked Shauna personally and invited her and her parents into the Oval Office for a private chat. Shauna’s next goal: 1.4 million letters, one for each member of every service.

In years past, you could wrap up a care package and mail it to “Any Service Member” for the holidays. These days, the Pentagon is asking you not to do that. This doesn’t mean you can’t help. Financial contributions, letter-writing and e-mail, authorized pre-made care packages available for purchase or volunteer work through non-profits can all give servicemen a holiday blessing. Here are some of the best ways to do it.

One of the oldest options, the United Service Organization, is still one of the best. A general donation to the USO pays for hospital support for recuperating soldiers, the famous USO entertainment tours and other important services (call 1-800-876-7469 or visit www.uso.org/pubs/8_20_10417.cfm). The USO also pays for long-distance calls back home, pre-made care packages and even home computers for servicemens’ families. A $10 donation to Operation Phone Home buys a serviceman 100 minutes on the phone and pays to ship the card (1-800-901-1501 or www.uso.org/donate). $25 to Operation USO Care Package buys a safe and secure means of sending morale-boosting personal items (1-877-USO-GIVE or www.usocares.org). Gift certificates for use on military bases are also encouraged (1-877-770-4438) as is Operation Homelink, which gives computers to military families (1-312-863-6336 or www.operationhomelink.org).

Other trustworthy services are the Armed Forces Relief Trust (www.afrtrust.org) and the individual military relief agencies: the Army Emergency Relief (866-878-6378 or www.aerhq.org), the Air Force Aid Society (800-769-8951 or www.afas.org), the Coast Guard Mutual Assistance (800-881-2462 or www.cgmahq.org) and the Navy-Marine Corps Relief Society (703-696-4906 or www.nmcrs.org). These groups are officially sponsored by the Pentagon and provide vital emergency services but receive no government funding whatsoever. They rely entirely upon private donations to do their good work.

You can also help by simply sending an e-mail. You can log on to Shauna’s site (ww.amillionthanks.org) or you can use a new Pentagon program, “America Supports You,” which lets users send messages to soldiers and vice versa. “America Supports You” (www.americasupportsyou.mil) lets you read messages to soldiers and read messages the soldiers return from the front.

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