Saturday, December 25, 2004

By opening negotiations on membership with Turkey, the European Union (EU) has shown itself dynamic, purposeful and self-confident. This step underlines the EU’s ambition to cement freedom, stability and prosperity in Europe. At the same time, we send a message around the world: the European Union is sustained by shared values, principles and interests, not by exclusion on religious or cultural grounds.

The decision to start negotiating, made by Europe’s leaders in Brussels Dec. 17, has done away with a great deal of psychological and political uncertainty about whether Turkey can be considered part of Europe. Nevertheless, tough negotiations lie ahead on the long and winding road to full Turkish membership. The reforms undertaken in Turkey in the past two years have been truly impressive. The EU wants to ensure reform will continue. Turkish authorities should do more, for example, to protect religious minorities’ rights.

The prospect of EU membership is already transforming Turkey, and the country’s accession will likewise profoundly affect the EU. In 10 to 15 years, an EU of approximately 500 million people will absorb a country with some 80 million inhabitants. Turkey will have the same rights as other member states, but its size will give it a large say in EU decisions. The years ahead must be seized to boost economic growth in Turkey and to upgrade the EU’s institutional, social and economic frameworks. If Turkey and the EU succeed, we can cushion the impact of Turkey’s membership. Fears that millions will migrate from Turkey’s rural areas to other parts of the EU, or that Turkey will siphon off the EU’s resources, will prove unfounded.

It is hard to overstate the strategic importance of Europe’s decision on Turkey. It demonstrates that Western nations have no insuperable prejudice against Islam. It will confirm Turkey’s role as a nation whose Muslim heritage is fully compatible with democracy. This decision also underlines the vital role of the European Union in shaping and transforming politics and economies of nations along its expanding border. If this decision increases Europe’s geopolitical impact as a stabilizing force beyond its own borders — and I believe it will — this also will benefit the trans-Atlantic relationship.

Through Turkish membership, the European Union will border on Syria, Iraq, Armenia and the Caucasus. Europe and the broader Middle East will grow geographically closer. This proximity will present risks, but also opportunities.

On the one hand, the EU will find itself closer to a volatile part of the world, in which regional conflicts, terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction form a dangerous mix. On the other hand, we will have a historic opportunity to build political, economic and cultural bridges. Turkey’s accession will augment the EU’s authority in the global dialogue between civilizations, because the EU will be seen to practice at home what it preaches abroad. A Europe that shows leadership and confidently promotes democracy and the rule of law in the Islamic world is a valuable partner for the United States.

Turkey’s accession will also strengthen the EU’s political and military capacity to fight terrorism and promote international peace and stability. The U.S. is right to ask Europe to shoulder more of the global security burden. With the help of Turkey’s strong military, the European Union will be better able to do so. Turkey’s important role in NATO’s operation in Afghanistan illustrates its potential.

EU member states and their citizens have embarked on a voyage of integration, and the final destination is still unknown. But our course is clear. We are guided by the firm conviction that people with different languages, cultures and religious beliefs can form a community, provided they subscribe to the same fundamental rules. That is why Turkey belongs in Europe.


Foreign Affairs Minister

Kingdom of The Netherlands

(The Netherlands currently holds the European Union Presidency and chaired recent negotiations between the EU and Turkey over the decision on accession negotiations.)

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