- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 5, 2005

The European Union pulled together behind Turkey’s potential entry to the union on Monday, narrowly averting yet another high profile failure to rally behind a common agenda. The agreement to begin Turkey’s accession talks contains escape clauses pushed publicly by Austria and tacitly by France. Still, the union took a historic step in beginning formal negotiations with the only Muslim country to be considered for EU membership. If Turkey does ultimately join the union, it would be of seismic significance, providing a real world example of a Christian-Muslim partnership and creating a cultural bridge between Europe and the Middle East.

By agreeing Monday to start formal accession talks, the European Union has further committed itself to consider in good faith Turkey’s bid to join the union. Since formal talks have begun, the union should allow Turkey’s entry if it meets by a reasonable standard integration criteria. It was that commitment which Austria wanted the union to avoid.

Under the last-hour agreement that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice helped broker, Turkey will be negotiating entry as a full member of the union, not a so-called privileged partnership as Austria had wanted. The agreement also said, though, that Turkey’s entry depends on the union’s ability to absorb it — a triumph for Austria.

The arduous negotiations leading to the agreement reflect the challenges of integrating a populous and relatively poor Muslim country into the European Union. Many of the benefits for Europe to integrating Turkey seem somewhat symbolic while the difficulties are concrete and considerable. There is little question that inviting Turkey in is somewhat of a gamble. Europe is betting that Turkey’s integration would transform and uplift Turkey, rather than Turkey’s entry transforming and burdening the union. Europeans have valid concerns about an unmanageable influx of Turkish workers with a distinct cultural and religious background. Turkey would also become a net recipient of EU aid.

The skeptics are in part correct in arguing that Turkey is not European. Turkey is a unique hybrid, culturally and geographically part of Europe and the Middle East. Turkey is no hotbed of Islamic extremism, and the kind of Muslim worship that predominates in the country can coexist side by side with European culture — and enrich it.

By inviting Turkey in, the European Union can more credibly intervene in world affairs, particularly in the Muslim world. Importantly, Turkey’s integration will demonstrate that Muslims and Christians need not be heading toward a catastrophic clash. It will also signal to the world the benefits of democratic reform. The Turkish people are optimistic and energetic about joining Europe. They are committed to rising to the challenge.

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