For decades Turkey has been pursuing membership to the coalition of nations known as the European Union. As a young European with a vested interest in Europe’s future, the futility, thus far, of this pursuit troubles me. Turkish accession, with its 73 million people and acting as a bridge between Europe, Asia and the Middle East, would dramatically alter the nature of the European Union and herald its becoming a major player on the world stage.
Europe’s attempts to project traditional geopolitical power have, so far, yielded little result. The Baroness Ashton-led Common Foreign and Security Policy has wallowed in the high commissioner’s anonymity. Europe has been unable to commit to any single collective stance regarding relations with Russia, engagement with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict or the ongoing civil war in Libya. It has been left to individual member states to take their own, oftentimes opposing, stances.
There are too many diverging interests within the Union to make the formulation of a concrete, traditional foreign policy a likely prospect. Instead, Europe must realise its past success and future potential in the role as a “normative” power. It is through its continuing internal success and the desire of other nations to enjoy these same successes that Europe wields geopolitical influence.
It was this desire for emulation that helped bring about the collapse of the totalitarian Soviet Union and the drawing of almost all of Eastern Europe into the Western sphere. Not only did the success of the European Communities and desire to emulate them result in increased EU membership, but also in the establishment of strong democracies where “European” values of human rights and the rule of law continue to be respected 30 years on.
Similarly, opening the door to Turkish accession would help establish there a fully functioning democracy and improve the lot of the everyday Turk. It would help bring an end to the police brutality, abuse of prisoners and severe limits on freedom of expression that are current hallmarks of Turkey’s flawed democracy. All these issues can be surmounted if Turkey is allowed follow the path of accession through bringing itself into accordance with our acquis communautaire.
It would also affirm the viability of the secular, westward-looking Turkish state established by Ataturk. A decisive blow would be dealt to Islamist and anti-Western groups actively undermining the democratic development of the country. It would also give Europe a voice as a committed and trusted partner in the Middle East and Asia. It would affirm that the values of the EU are not the reserve of the developed, “Christian” West but are, in fact, applicable to people of all faiths, of all cultures.
The US is in decline. Authoritarian China is on the rise. Who but Europe can now lead the charge towards a world where human rights, democracy and the rule of law are commonly accepted and practiced? Involvement in European Youth Parliament has shown me the vast potential that Europe possesses; Europe must fulfil this potential. Facilitating Turkey’s path to accession is the first and necessary step towards doing so.
Otherwise we will push Turkey further and further away from the West and towards the ever-threatening world of Islamist extremism. Rick Perry was rightly slammed by the media when he categorised Turkey, a secular state, as a bunch of “Islamic terrorists”. However, we must understand that by failing to reward Turkey for its efforts to seek closer relations with the EU, that we are pushing them further and further away from ourselves and towards the inviting arms of Islamist, extremist groups. It is no surprise that continued failure of the EU to reward Turkish moves towards our norms has led to increasing support for Islamist politics in the country.
In July of this year, Ireland shall assume the presidency of the European Council. We should take this opportunity to help lead Europe in a positive, embracing direction and work on bringing Turkey into the fold.
By Eoin O’Driscoll