Turkey's new President renews campaign for EU membership

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The Independent Online

Turkey's Cabinet - approved yesterday by the new President Abdullah Gul - is to launch a major drive to convince foreign opponents of its application to EU that it is in Europe's interests to have her as a member.

Prominent members of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) will start travelling next month to France, Germany and Eastern Europe in the wake of Mr Gul's election in an effort turn the tide of political opinion in favour of eventual Turkish membership of the Union. Mr Gul, a devout Muslim who has pledged to maintain Turkey's separation between Islam and the state, went out of his way in his acceptance speech on Tuesday to call for acceleration of political and economic reforms required by the EU accession process which he began as Foreign Minister four years ago.

The message was underlined yesterday when the Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, appointed the 40-year-old Economy Minister Ali Babacan to succeed Mr Gul as Foreign Minister. Mr Babacan has played an enthusiastic role in the EU negotiations as well as a key part in lifting Turkey from its economic slump to growth rates of around seven per cent.

Suat Kiniklioglu, a new AKP member born and raised in Germany, who will play a key role in the government's new public diplomacy, said: "We have to go and convince the European elite and political class that it makes sense to have Turkey in the union."

Mr Kiniklioglu, a liberal-minded pro-European technocrat who came to parliament from the Ankara directorship of the German Marshall Fund of the United States, is not untypical of the new intake of members of the AKP in its July landslide election victory. Despite the party's Islamic roots, he is "not very religious" and his wife – unlike President Gul's – does not wear a headscarf.

One task he faces is to convince sceptics in Germany and France that accession will not mean mass immigration of relatively poor and unskilled Turks into western Europe. Instead he insists a "qualified and targeted" migrating workforce could reverse a demographic imbalance and help "pay for older Europeans' pensions".

At the same time, he argues, Turkey, with the second largest army in Nato, could help Europe fulfil ambitions to be a global player in a climate when most west European member states are reluctant to increase defence spending. And it could help to guarantee energy supplies which are not dependent on Russia. But in a wider context Mr Kiniklioglu believes Turkey is likely to be a catalyst for positive change among other Muslim states if it joins the EU. He adds that increasing commentary by intellectuals in the Muslim world can "roughly be summarised as asking 'What the hell did the Turks do right that we didn't do? How come they can manage a predominantly Muslim population, negotiate with the EU, and have a workable democracy while we're stuck with these idiotic autocrats'".

With Turkey "a laboratory everyone is watching" he says that Mr Gul's election despite opposition by the military and secularists, makes this a "truly historic time. If we can make Islam and democracy co-habit, if we get this right, it will be good, and not just for Turkey. You will see a grassroots push for change in the Middle East if we can do that."

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