Turks decided to be part of the West and wear modern European attire in the early 20th century, within the policy of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of modern Turkey.

However, Turkey's bid to join the European Union (EU) has remained a pending issue between the consecutive right-wing, left wing and moderate governments of key European countries, especially Germany, France and Britain.

Lately, the issue of Turkey's EU membership has become more complicated after Nicolas Sarkozy and Angela Merkel assumed power in France and Germany, respectively, because they both oppose Turkey's bid to join the EU out of their right-wing ideologies.

On the other side, moderate Europeans call for integrating Turkey into the EU to assert the union's human and non-racial dimension.

A European commission to support Turkey's quest was formed. Chaired by former Finnish president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Marti Ahtisaari, the commission, which includes European politicians and prominent figures, accused the EU of blocking Turkey's EU bid negotiations.

The commission called for giving a big boost to these negotiations, which began before Sarkozy took office, to stress their seriousness.

On its part, Turkey underwent major and radical reforms to meet the requirements of the EU membership, including responding to the demands of minority, especially Kurds and Armenians.

Responding to these demands, Turkey issued a decision last week allowing educational institutions in Kurdish areas to teach in Kurdish. Turkey took further steps by signing a historical accord to normalise ties with Armenia.

Moreover, Turkey took practical steps to unify Cyprus and recognise it when the island is unified, as well as to improve its relations with Greece.

This is besides the development leaps achieved by Turkey in a short period of time, which placed the Turkish economy among the world's fastest growing, ahead of many European economies.

Among these economies are those countries that joined the EU recently, such as Romania and Bulgaria, whose economies are not comparable with Turkey's.

Undoubtedly, it is in Europe's interests to accept Turkey's EU membership, and more importantly is that the bid supporters and even the opponents are fully aware that accepting Turkey is as important to Turkey as it is to Europe.

Geopolitical influence

Turkey's potential geopolitical influence also cannot be ignored. As a member of the EU, Turkey would become the largest member state in terms of area, and the second largest member state in terms of population, and hence it is a large market for European products.

Moreover, Turkey will be in a position to provide skilled and well trained labour that Europe's job market needs, while serving as a destination for investment and an engine for economic growth. Admitting Turkey to the EU will definitely save Europe a lot of costs and social commitments.

Opposition to Turkey's EU membership bid stems from a sheer racial and chauvinist ideology, as expressed by rightist parties, which called Turkey the sick man of Europe, not the sick man of the East, in the early 20th century when the Ottoman Empire began to collapse. The problem of opponents is that there is a strong support for Turkey's EU membership bid.

Furthermore, Turkey is not the only Muslim country in Europe. Albania, which is prepared to join the European club, is also situated in Europe. Also, there are Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan, which joined European sports teams as classified by Fifa according to geographic boundaries of the European continent.

Hence, there are two positions — an emotional stand based on ethnic and religious backgrounds and a pragmatic stand based on the mutual interests and broader horizons of Europe's position on the new world map.

The potential upcoming competition between countries and the world's major economic blocs, particularly in the Eastern Asia, also cannot be ignored.

Finally, the issue is more likely to be settled according to the mutual interests of both sides, simply because economic and strategic interests are above sentimental and ethnic considerations, as evident in history.

Turkey and the EU must put their interests above any other considerations and draw lessons from others throughout history.


Dr. Mohammad Al Asoomi is a UAE economic expert.