- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 2007

The recent turmoil in Turkey, with the military practically vetoing the choice of Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul for president, has refocused attention on the suitability of Turkey as a possible member of the European Union.

In 1963, Turkey signed an Association Agreement with the then-European Economic Community. Turkey’s relations with the EEC were harmed by a series of military coups in 1960, 1971 and 1980, while, after the end of the Cold War, its geopolitical significance has been somewhat diminished.

Nevertheless, the European Union in December 1999 named Turkey as a candidate country eligible for accession and, in October 2005, after delicate and difficult discussions, agreed to start open-ended negotiations.

In that respect, we have to congratulate EU officials for their perspicacity. We also have to pay tribute to Greek diplomacy, which, despite differences with Turkey, focused on substance and possible future benefits, and, with an open mind, supported Turkey’s accession.

Greece even risked provoking the dissatisfaction of some European partners who continue to have reservations on this matter. Some hoped the Greeks would pull the chestnuts out of the fire and veto the beginning of accession negotiations with Turkey. It is worth noting that the foreign policy of the U.S. and Greece coincides, since both support Turkey’s progress within the EU.



Nevertheless, we must always remember that EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said, “Turkey is acceding to the EU, and not the EU to Turkey.” In other words, within the European structure, the worst service we can render Turkey would be a futile attempt to convince the EU to accept something incompatible with the European basic law, the “acquis communautaire.” Instead, we must convince Turkey to harmonize with existing European rules.

How is it conceivable that a state that wishes to enter an international organization stipulates it will not recognize one of its member states and, worse, continues to illegally occupy that member state, as Turkey has done with the Republic of Cyprus?

How can such an applicant have its warplanes constantly violate the airspace of Greece, an existing member? And how about the official threat that it would be a “casus belli,” a cause for war, if Greece extends its territorial waters to 12 nautical miles, as she has a perfect right to do under international law?

How can Turkey accede to the EU without respecting fundamental religious freedoms? The Turks are constantly threatening and harassing the Ecumenical Patriarchate in Istanbul, the centuries-old religious headquarters of several hundred thousand Orthodox Christians around the world. Under a more objective approach, Turkish policy would realize the Ecumenical Patriarchate is an asset rather than a menace.

Even if such an application sounds inconceivable or borders on the absurd, it was still accepted and negotiations were started.

Some analysts often cite the potential “threat” that Turkey could turn to some alternative options of cooperation, if its way toward Europe met insurmountable obstacles. These options range from Russia and Iran to China and India. But could Turkey then stay within the frame of a “Western Alliance”? What would be the value of such an alternative option in comparison to what the West has to offer? An evaluation of respective benefits clearly shows this is an idle threat.

Turkey urgently needs extensive development and regional infrastructure. In addition, it needs to bolster democratic institutions and human rights. It is in its own interest to remain within the European trajectory. Europe presents rewarding opportunities for Turkey.

Nevertheless, Europe has its own rules that have been applied equally and objectively to every country that has joined the Union up until now. While Europe may have treated Turkey’s case perhaps more favorably at the beginning in order to give it some impetus, it is self-evident that these rules must be respected and applied in this case, too.

It is well known that the structure, traditions and the whole functioning of Turkish society and policy have a different background from those of today’s Europe. The EU negotiations and many of the reforms already introduced have been used by pro-European politicians, like Prime Minister Recip Erdogan for “domestic consumption.” The aim was to either achieve future electoral gains or smooth over internal problems. But such use of foreign policy does not work within the EU.

An accepted axiom states that between good friends there is a frank dialogue. Before the EU Commission evaluates the progress of the Turkish reforms, we must tell Turkey the truth: that the road to Europe will be tough, as it was for everyone else before; that they should not expect the EU to adopt Turkish standards but that Turkey must comply with those of the EU, which have applied to everyone else before; and that “European Union a la carte” does not exist. European rules and principles are valid and solid. While the EU has never threatened anybody’s national identity, the EU requires the respect of the law.

If these requirements sound harsh, they will be harder later. One way or another, Turkey has to walk the narrow path to meet them and the sooner we tell the truth to our Turkish friends, the better it will be.

Aris Anagnos is vice president of the American Hellenic Council in California.

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