Tuesday, October 04, 2005

The fate of Tantalus and Turkey

The British author Mark Leonard has given us the best illustration to why we should all be celebrating the fact that the formal talks on Turkish EU-membership now can begin (from his book "Why Europe will run the 21st century"):
“Beware the fate of Tantalus. The Ancient king of Sipylus in Asia Minor upset the gods by serving his son up at a dinner party and was sentenced to a life of perpetual frustration. He was immersed up to his neck in water, but when he bent to drink it all drained away; luscious fruit hung on trees above him, but when he reached for it the winds blew the branches beyond his reach. The gods could have smitten him from the face of the earth, but they made him suffer more by dangling untold wealth in front of him and then preventing him from ever enjoying it. This is how the European Union wields its power today.
For over 40 years Turkey has been waiting at the gates of the EU. And yes, there are improvements that must be made before Turkey can become a full member of the club. But remember that they are now only in the ante-room of the EU, and the soft power of the Union – so brilliantly illustrated by Mark Leonard – will continue to ensure that Turkey works hard with the necessary improvements.

There are many strong arguments to why Turkey should become a member of the EU: Turkey is fascinating country with a young, vibrating population; the EU will no longer be an all-Christian club; the EU will get an inside gateway to the Middle East; Turkey will continue to reform and will become a model for other Muslim countries (especially: democracy and separation of Mosque and state) – just to name a few. And to be geo-political and very American: Turkey borders two thirds of the “Axis of Evil” and it is better to “have them in the tent pissing out, than outside pissing in”. Congratulations Turkey and Europe, continue to reform and I hope to be using euros in your beautiful capital one day.

But there are always a few “but”. I hang out with a lot of Kurds and I promise I have heard quite a few stories about what is still going on in Eastern Turkey – and I was in Diyarbakir this summer. It is easy to mention many needed reforms and issues (Cyprus, Kurds, Armenian genocide, the role of the military) – as the Swedish author Kurdo Baksi is doing in a very lame article today in Svenska Dagbladet. But I think this kind of criticism is shooting beside the target. Turkey is so far only in the ante-room negotiating, the soft power of the EU is stimulating more reforms by the hour, and when Turkey and the EU are ready to close the deal in full we will have a larger, richer Union. And when it comes to the Kurdish questions: more or less all Kurdish friends I have are positive vis-à-vis Turkish membership, since they know it will mean that Turkey must respect its large Kurdish population in accordance with 88,000 pages of EU-legislation – based on the rule of law and including human rights.

One last points: I get a very bad, brownish stinking feeling when a right-wing Austrian politician is obstructing European politics with semi-racist arguments.


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