No way to treat a friend

Europe has just as much to lose as Turkey if the doubters prevail in the membership battle

Originally published in The Guardian newspaper, Wednesday, 17 October 2007.

For the third year in a row, Turkey’s annual hurdles on the winding path of convergence with the EU – a progress report early next month and the European Council in December – are likely to be bruising. Doubters will seize on gridlock over Cyprus and a pause in legislative reform to allege that Turkey is not changing and should be pushed back outside the EU’s gates. They will point to Ankara’s response to US efforts to declare the 1915-23 killing of Armenians a genocide, and the political push for an incursion into northern Iraq to deal with cross-border terrorist attacks, as evidence that Turkey is not ready to join the club. So it is worth stepping back and considering why Europe needs Turkey.

Turkey was critical to Europe in the cold war. For 40 years, it stood lonely guard on the south-eastern third of Nato’s frontline, paying the price in military-heavy government and delayed development. There was little carping about its Muslim identity then, and a cultural variety that included Turkey was considered a European strength. After communism’s collapse, Turkey kept contributing to Europe’s security, giving troops and legitimacy to EU-backed missions in Afghanistan, Lebanon, the Balkans, and even Congo. If EU-Turkish relations had not stumbled (for which all sides are responsible), it would likely be supporting a force for Darfur.

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