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 Issue 2, December the 8th, 2004

Giscard d’ Estaing : Turkey Is Not a European State !
This is an edited version of a longer article that appears at

Turkey's possible entry into the European Union provokes passionate debate and a wide variety of arguments. Jacques Chirac said on October 26 in Berlin: "My sincerest wish is that we can arrive at the end of this process -which will take 10 to 15 years- with the possibility of accession." Yet 64 per cent of French people surveyed say they are against Turkish entry.

Let us try to bring a little reason to this debate. What is the fairest and most appropriate way to organize relations between Turkey and the EU in future decades?

First, the promises already made to Turkey. Those commitments were made in the 1960s, when the question was whether Turkey would enter the Common Market, which was exclusively economic. They were fulfilled when the EU signed a customs union treaty with Turkey in 1995.

Second, opponents are often accused of refusing to countenance Turkish entry for reasons of religion. We must be categorical on this point: this is not an argument for the acceptance or rejection of Turkey's application.

Would Turkish accession to the EU prevent the country from sliding into Muslim fundamentalism? Nobody knows. The intensity of religious conviction depends on internal factors, but also on feelings of solidarity with neighbouring Muslim countries. It might seem more natural to the Turks to form partnerships with these neighbours than to change their legislation to comply with distant Brussels.

So is Turkey a "European State", in the words of the EU's treaty and the draft European constitution? The National Geographic Atlas of the World puts it in Asia. Turkey still has a small European enclave, but this represents only 5 per cent of its territory and 8 per cent of its population. Turkey has a short border with its two European neighbours, Greece and Bulgaria; a very long border with Syria and Iraq, the Middle Eastern countries that once belonged to the Ottoman Empire; and a shared border with Iran and Armenia.

Turkey's population of close to 73m is greater than that of any of the European states except Germany. United Nations demographic forecasts state that, in 20 years, Turkey would be the biggest state in the EU in terms of population, which by then will have reached 89m. Turkey's revenue per head is half the average of the 10 newest members and only a fifth that of the other 15. The structure of Turkey's economy, while it has made substantial progress, is still far from the European norm. Agriculture accounts for 14 per cent of gross domestic product.

The current uncertainty and skepticism about the European project is due to lack of clarity. Progressive enlargement has led to increasing unease. Europeans need to strengthen their identity. No "European patriotism" can exist until European citizens realize they belong to a single entity.

The European Convention sought a clearer definition of the foundations of this entity: the cultural contributions of ancient Greece and Rome, Europe's pervasive religious heritage, the creative enthusiasm of the Renaissance, the philosophy of the Age of the Enlightenment and the contributions of rational and scientific thought. Turkey shares none of these. This is not meant to be pejorative. Turkey has developed its own history and its own culture, which deserve respect. However, the foundations of Europe's identity, so vital to the cohesion of the EU today, are different. Turkey's accession would change the nature of the European project.

First, it could not be an isolated case. There is already a queue forming to the east and west. Morocco would probably be tempted to follow Turkey's example. This could result in a process of permanent enlargement, destabilizing the operations of the European system and removing its original rationale.

Second, Turkey carries such weight in terms of scale and population (and will carry even more in the future) that it would become the major decision-maker in the EU, creating an imbalance in a structure that is already very fragile and designed for other purposes. Constitutions are not catch-all formulae to which we can simply add the names of new arrivals. The European constitution that is waiting to be ratified was not designed to accommodate a power the size of Turkey.

What is most surprising is the way most European leaders have let themselves be drawn into a simplistic choice between agreeing to negotiations on Turkey's accession to the EU and closing the door in its face.

If the only solution Europe can come up with is allowing entry to the Union or antagonizing its partners, the EU is doomed to slide into a regional version of the UN, designed for meeting, dialogue and certain specific co-operative projects. It would have no identity, no common will and no role to play. The world would evolve without Europe.

Negotiations with Turkey should not, therefore, focus on accession but should explore the links that the EU can forge with its largest neighbours. Article 57 of the proposed constitution would allow the EU to negotiate privileged partnership agreements with its neighbours. Next month, the council of ministers should decide to open negotiations to establish a common area of economic prosperity and permanent structures for political co-operation, which would create just such a partnership between Turkey and the EU.

This is the kind of constructive and realistic attitude that would allow for progress. It would respond to Turkey's expectations without jeopardizing the fragile construction of the EU, which has not yet adjusted to the institutional and budgetary consequences of the latest enlargement. This proposal should be actively supported by France to bring about a unanimous decision.

We have been concerning ourselves with Turkey a good deal recently. Is it not time to give more thought to Europe?