Leading Article: The European Union must open its doors to Turkey

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The Independent Culture
THE EUROPEAN Union's decisions yesterday to open enlargement negotiations with six more countries and to designate Turkey as a candidate for membership are both welcome and overdue. Each implies a question that goes to the very heart of the European debate. What is an enlarged EU to be: a loose confederation, a deliberately multi-speed venture, or an integrated federation? And, more basically, what - politically and geographically - is Europe?

The existing European institutions were invented for a community of six. Already, with 15 members, they are scarcely workable. Without a streamlined decision-making process and more majority voting, a future EU of 21, 27, or 28 members will simply seize up. But these new structures, due before the accession of the first new members in 2003, demand a further surrender of national sovereignty, an unmistakable pointer to the road the EU intends to take in the next century.

At least the six countries (Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria and Malta) with whom negotiations will start are part of Europe. But Turkey? In the 19th century it was famously dubbed the "sick man" not of Asia, but of Europe. But barely 5 per cent of its territory falls within the geographical definition of Europe. It would be the EU's first large Muslim member, yet for more than 1,000 years its largest city was the seat of eastern Christianity. It would carry the EU's frontiers to Iran, Syria and Iraq. But together with Greece, with whom its history has been entwined for millennia, Turkey holds the key to the stability of the Union's south- eastern reaches.

Is it, or is it not, one of us? Of itself, the granting of candidate status does not solve this riddle. It merely allows Europe more time to do so. Accession talks will not start soon, even assuming that the Turks accept the offer. The obstacles are huge: not just an agriculturally backward economy, but also Turkey's human rights record and the role of its military as arbiter of political life. It may be a generation before Turkey is ready for full EU membership.

But at least that prospect is now open. To anchor a modern, democratic Turkey in the West, we must open the doors of Europe. Only in this way will we encourage Ankara to seek a fair settlement to the Kurdish problem, to work for a Cyprus solution, and to settle territorial disputes in the Aegean. When all this has happened, the great Turkey-in-Europe conundrum will have largely solved itself.

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