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Which direction for Turkey : East or West?

Friday 17 August 2007, by Ata Atun

The Middle Ages are 500 years behind us. Europe should not fear a new barbarian horde at its gates. When Turkey was not invited to Europe’s big birthday despite being an official candidate for EU membership, Turkish people were quite disappointed and expressed heartbreak at this unfortunate missed opportunity.

But now, the anger and frustration which were peaked at that time, are slowly giving way to a new, more assertive idea. That perhaps Turkey does not really need Europe after all and the EU will come to regret its insultingly complacent chauvinism as Turkey goes its own way — facing eastward. It is probable that the Europeans underestimated the importance and influence of Turkey in the region. If they are serious about the future of Europe as a power in global affairs, they need to change their way of thinking.

In the 1990s, the EU was a giant organization governed by prominent leaders; today it seems it has become a fat midget that lacks perspective and is governed by small thinkers. Turkey is now recalibrating its external ties and the EU is but one of the knots on the rope. EU membership should not be seen only as a gift to Turkey as the benefits for Europe are just as many as for Turkey. While in Turkey the working-age population as a proportion of the total population is growing, it is the contrary in Europe. Turkey’s strength is the drive and energy of its 70 million people, a dynamic resource that flabby, middle-aged Europe lacks. Rates of growth mean that by 2015, Turkey could become an importer of labor.

Turkey’s increasingly important regional leadership role is also changing the way it views the EU. As a vital transit hub, it provides much of Europe’s oil and gas from the Caspian basin, Russia and, prospectively the Turkic republics of central Asia. This is leading to closer cooperation with Moscow and reviving ideas of a Turkic Commonwealth from Azerbaijan to Kazakhstan.

The Republic of Cyprus started adding poison to the pot immediately after its accession to the EU on May 1, 2004. Disillusion with the EU begun to slowly escalate and now to peak after Brussels partially suspended talks in December in a row over Cyprus. The hostility, as perceived from Ankara, of French President Nicolas Sarkozy and the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, keeps poisoning the pot at a rate of one deadly drop per day.

Turkey’s new-found confidence about life beyond Europe is based in part on a booming economy, whose sustained, IMF-supervised 7 percent annual growth rate far outperforms large EU states. Export earnings are rising too, including in the Arab lands of the old Ottoman Empire.
The “Reformed Islamist” or as called after the July elections “Communal Central” government in Ankara is also cultivating the Arab and Muslim world. It is true that Turkey is the only country to reconcile Islam with a fully functioning, multi-party democracy in a modern, secular republic. The experience of the Turks shatters the myth that Islam cannot accommodate democracy. This theory is now out of question. The July 22 elections proved the existence of a stable and strong democracy in Turkey.

The Turkish government sent peacekeeping troops to Lebanon last year and conducted talk with Iran when most do not dare. Close links to Israel have not prevented Turkey from building ties with Palestinian authorities, both Hamas and Al-Fatah. Despite tensions with the Kurds, Turkey is northern Iraq’s main economic partner. Turkey is likely to be the venue for Iraqi summits in the future.

Officially, Turkey still wants to join the EU, but Europe must banish its ignorance and acknowledge its own needs. Europe is not yet ready for Turkish membership, and it seems it will take a long time for the European public to digest this fact — if Turkey does not give up the idea by then.

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Source : TDZ, 30.07.2007

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