- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 13, 2005

If France had its way, Turkey would be kept waiting at the EU altar indefinitely — no explicit rejection needed. Fortunately, Britain has risen to challenge French obstructionism, and has accurately described how important Turkey is to the West.

In a speech Friday in London, British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said that bringing Turkey into the union would demonstrate that “Western and Islamic cultures can thrive together as partners in the modern world.” Mr. Straw has it right. Much of the Islamic world is gaining a new political awareness and a yearning for political representation, as they see Iraqis, Palestinians and Lebanese enjoy new freedoms. It is a propitious time to demonstrate how Turkey is benefiting, too. “We all have an interest in the modernization of Turkey and of reform there,” Mr. Straw said. “If we make the wrong decision, we could find that we have a crisis on our own doorstep.”

A move by France and others to block Turkey’s entry to the European Union, on the other hand, would strengthen the hand of extremists calling for war between Islam and the West.

Pandering to domestic isolationists, French President Jacques Chirac is trying to use Ankara’s unwillingness to recognize Cyprus as a pretext for delaying Turkey’s accession talks, which are slated to begin on Oct. 3. Mr. Chirac said, “[I]t is impossible to open negotiations with a country which does not recognize one of the union’s members.”

Mr. Chirac is adopting a one-sided posture on the complex Turkey-Cyprus issue. The dispute between the ethnic Turks in the north of Cyprus and ethnic Greeks in the south is three decades old. The Turkish Cypriot state and Ankara accepted a U.N.-brokered a settlement to the crisis last year. The Greeks Cypriots rejected the plan in a referendum, but the European Union admitted Cyprus shortly afterwards nevertheless and recognized the Greek Cypriot administration as the sole and official government of the island.

Europe should not hold Turkey’s entry talks hostage to the Cyprus issue. Britain has proposed a potential compromise, recommending that Turkey need not recognize Cyprus for entry talks to begin, but should officially recognize Cyprus before it enters the union — which is about 10 to 15 years down the road.

It is vital that Europe stay focused on the broad significance of Turkey entering the EU. The union undoubtedly faces some economic challenges with Turkey’s integration, but Europe will also reap geopolitical dividends as it reaches out to Turkey’s allies. The EU bureaucracy must uphold the criteria for entry, but it must also be fair and consistent with Turkey.

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