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Turkey Inches Towards EU Membership

On this week’s Encounter, host Carol Castiel is joined by Omer Taspinar, co-director of the Project on Turkey at the Brookings Institution, and by Steven Cook, fellow at the New York-based Council on Foreign Relations. They discussed the decision by the European Union on whether to formally open membership negotiations with Turkey.

Omer Taspinar says the positive aspects of Turkey’s inclusion in the European club are often perceived by European “naysayers” as negative points – for example, the issue of Turkey’s size. Turkey will have about 85 to 90 million people by 2015, when it is likely to become a member of the EU. Its population is generally young and relatively well educated. Turks make the point that Europe has an aging and shrinking population and its welfare states need to keep their pensions going though a large labor force. Professional economists argue that Turkey would provide Europe with a pool of skilled workers.

The problem of the “clash of civilizations” provides another good argument for Turkey’s accession to the EU because there are few Muslim countries besides Turkey, which are secular, democratic and pro-Western. Omer Taspinar says having Turkey as a EU member would undermine the theory of the “clash of civilizations” because it would demonstrate that a majority Muslim country could successfully integrate into a predominantly Christian grouping. Moreover, Mr. Taspinar believes that Turkey would not only add to Europe’s cultural diversity, but it would also give the EU greater credibility in dealing with the Middle East, the Balkans, and the Caucasus. And finally, he says, Turkey could make an important military contribution to the EU nations.

On the other hand, Steven Cook says that many Europeans are skeptical. The fact that Turkey has a large population of relatively poor Muslims is a stumbling block. In some countries there is already a large minority of Muslims from North Africa that have had a difficult time integrating into West European society, and many Europeans fear that the inclusion of Turkey might exacerbate these problems.

Although Mr. Cook says that he personally agrees with Mr. Taspinar that the sociological integration of Muslim Turkey into a multicultural Europe would be a good thing, given Turkey’s profile as a secular state, he does not see how Turkey could bridge the divide between the West and the more conservative Arab Muslim world. In addition, he reminds there is the legacy of Ottoman colonialism in the Arab world.

However, Steven Cook says he thinks it is primarily economic and cultural issues that trouble those Europeans who view Turkey’s entry into the European Union in a negative light. Nonetheless, in the long run he believes that Turkish membership would ultimately be good for European economies.

For full audio of the program Encounter click here.