Turkey has been unsuccessfully seeking European Union membership for several years. However, the EU has blocked its membership aspirations because, to quote recent editorials in some German dailies, Turkey is "too poor, too big and too Islamic to fit in the liberal-Christian EU".

During her recent visit to Turkey, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered, instead, a "privileged partnership", which Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan dismissed as "inadequate".

The German perception is that Turkey brings with it a lot of baggage that could become a long-term liability for the EU. For many Germans, Turkey is an "emerging economy", a euphemism for a promising but still underdeveloped economy. The recent financial and monetary fiasco involving Greece has further hardened the European resolve to block the admission of new, economically weak members.


Germany, which already has a three-million strong Turkish population, fears that EU membership for Turkey would result in more Turkish migration into Germany, attracting those who could preach extremist ideas.

This fear also prompted Merkel to reject Erdogan's call for an increase in the number of Turkish-curriculum and religious schools in Germany, which could radicalise Turkish children, making their integration into German society more difficult.

But there are German politicians, such as Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle, a liberal belonging to Merkel's coalition partner, the Free Democratic Party, who want to see Turkey draw closer to Europe.

Though Turkey's standard of living is much lower than the EU average, Turkey has posted an average seven per cent growth rate, which is higher than that of any European country. This is why more than 4,000 German companies have a presence in Turkey.

Werner Schappauf, executive director of the Federal Association of German Industry, described Turkey, a 15 billion euro (Dh73.7 billion) market for German exports, as "more important than Japan".

Germany's energy-hungry economy also finds Turkey attractive. Juergen Grossmann, chief executive of the German energy company RWE, has underscored the importance of the Nabucco pipeline. It will transport natural gas from Erzurum in Turkey to Western Europe, thus reducing Europe's dependence on Russian energy from the unpredictable Russian Gazprom-led South Stream pipeline project.

Its huge size and geographical location make Turkey an important strategic partner with the potential to become a regional power whose influence could extend to the Caucasus and the Black Sea region, as well as the Muslim world.

In a complex, globalised world, Turkey's strategic importance could dramatically increase in the future.

Turkey could even play a fire-fighting role in the West's dispute with Iran, which has defied international pressure and refused to halt its nuclear programme. Although Turkey has rejected western-backed sanctions against Iran, saying that diplomacy would achieve better results, Ankara's connections could be used to sway Tehran to renounce its nuclear ambitions.

Once part of the EU, Turkey would have the responsibility to prove its "Europeanness", which it has trumpeted in the past.

Europeans, bothered by Turkey's Islamic character, should realise that it is also amongst the most liberal of Muslim countries, having acquired a modern and secular face under the leadership of Mustafa Kemal Ataturk following the collapse of the Ottoman Empire after the First World War. Since then, Turkey has moved closer to the West through membership in organisations such as the Council of Europe, the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, Nato, the Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, and the G20.


Indeed, Turkey should be brought still closer to Europe, and nudged towards greater democratisation, thus belying the argument that Islam and democracy are mutually exclusive.

Turkey has already instituted democratic reforms to fulfil the so-called Copenhagen criteria of 2001; it has improved its human-rights record and curbed the military's political role.

The European Council opened accession talks with Turkey in 2005. However, the talks need to be pushed ahead by opening up all the chapters of negotiations. Currently, 18 of the 35 chapters to be negotiated are blocked. Twelve have been opened and only one concluded.

The EU should not waste time in holding talks on Turkey's membership. The delaying tactics should stop, including offers of "privileged partnerships" which serve no useful purpose, and merely widen the schism between the two sides.


Manik Mehta is a commentator on Asian affairs.