Jan D. Oker-Blom

Turkey and Europe

Turkey is the bridge between Europe and Asia. Istanbul is mostly European both mentally and geographically. The city is a place where one can see how the two areas of the world are combined. In fact also literally because of the two bridges combining the European and Asian sides of the city.

Istanbul would be a perfect southeastern border town in an enlarged European union covering most of what is known as the geographical Europe. The city is in many aspects much richer than some of the major cities that already have been incorporated in the European union and its location is good, beautiful and strategic. Most of the people living in Istanbul are leading a life comparable to the present EU-average. They also seem to be very interested in adopting American and European ideas and at least the English-speaking elite is very much in favor of a secular state, western values and a membership in the EU. They would surely accept to make the needed reforms (although Cyprus is a sensitive issue among all Turks). Most Europeans that are familiar to this historic city would likely agree to accept an enlargement that includes only the Istanbul-area (or let us say the European part of Turkey). It would indeed fit in perfectly on the EU-map. But countries cannot be divided, especially in a project that is about peace and combining.

The question then is: are the European leaders doing their best to include all of Turkey in to the European entity? The answer is no, many countries are openly opposed. Some talk about laws and conventions, others about geography but the biggest reason is probably religion (combined with the size of the population). The timing is really not optimal considering that ten new countries just recently were accepted. The following question is: will Turkey do everything in its power to qualify? Maybe, but probably not. Turkey outside Istanbul is, with the exception of a few richer cities like Izmir and Ankara, relatively poor and rural. But that is not the problem; in fact it can be seen as an opportunity in the form of an emerging market. The problem is that the big majority of Turkey’s huge population is living in these poor and rural areas and politics is a majority game. Will they vote for politicians who do their best to please Christian Europe? Or will they be manipulated? Or do they even care about the EU? Elections are coming up next year and let us hope things will be easier after the elections – regardless of who won.

Finland’s role is not restricted to that of a member country in the EU. It was in Finland, at the Helsinki summit in 1999, where Turkey achieved its status as candidate country and Finland is again holding the EU-presidency as the candidacy progresses to real talks about membership. The post as EU-commissioner of enlargement is also given to Finland, stretching the Finnish influence far further than to the German presidency that starts in January 2007. That is a good thing from a Turkish perspective since Germany is openly negative about a Turkish membership, while Finland already has proven to be open for discussions – to say the least.

It remains to be seen if Turkey can, and wants to, make the reforms that EU demands. A bigger question is however what the present member countries think about a reformed Turkey, will it do? And maybe the ultimate question is: will Turkey be interested anymore when membership one day finally is offered, many, many years from now?