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What Holds Europe Together?

Krzysztof Michalski


Turkey’s EU Membership as a Litmus Test of European Self-Confidence

Claus Leggewie

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1What sets the Europe Paper of the Reflection Group apart from many declarations on Europe is its clear rejection of an essentialist concept of culture—such as, for example, a (Christian) guiding culture—as the possible basis for both a collective establishment of identity and for practical integration policies. Europe is not some kind of cultural essence, but an open historical process and Europe’s identity has always been defined in de-centered and extra-territorial terms. If the religious factor is to be taken into account, then it should be so, not by limiting and binding Europe to a Christian tradition (again understood as an essentialist one), but by assimilation of and reflection on the foundation of religious peace in a secular Europe, as well as by that inclusive principle of religious freedom that the American constitution today offers on a global level.

2It should also be emphasized (even if in fact it should be taken as self-evident) that the Europe Paper does not define itself against an “other” called Islam. The internal diversity of the worldwide Muslim community is not ignored, nor is the fact that, thanks to immigration, Muslims have long been living in Europe, mostly as secularized new European citizens.

3These preliminary remarks can be considered with reference to the question that, despite the eastward expansion of the European Union, dominated the debate on (European) integration: the accession of Turkey. In terms of policy deliberation, it is not at all necessary to pre-empt the results of the EU Commission’s review and the (more or less) democratic decision-making processes of the states of the European Union here in order to justify a position for or against. Instead, perspectives on identity and integration policy will be summed up, bearing in mind the determination of the “finality of Europe.” The debate on Turkey was extremely helpful and stimulating in this respect.

4Turkey has been knocking at the door of the European Community for more than forty years. At first, questions of European identity were not much of an issue. “Turkey is part of Europe. That is the deepest meaning of this process: it is, in the form most appropriate to our times, the confirmation of a truth, which is more than the abbreviated expression of a geographical statement or a historical observation, valid for a few centuries,” observed the President of the European Economic Community, Walter Hallstein (CDU), on the occasion of the Agreement of Association between the EEC and Turkey on September 12, 1963. He gave a very favorable assessment of Turkey’s convergence with Europe since Kemal Atatürk: “There has been nothing comparable in the history of the influence of European culture and politics, indeed we feel here an essential relationship with the most modern events in Europe… What, therefore, is more natural, than for there to be an identity between Europe… and Turkey in their actions and reactions: military, political and economic.”

5How different is the optimism of the “Mr Europe” of those days, who foresaw Turkey as “one day” becoming a full member, from the rejection pronounced by today’s “Monsieur l’Europe,” the President of the European Union Convention, Valéry Giscard d’Estaing, who dogmatically declared that Turkey was “no part of Europe” and its entry would effectively mean the end of the European Union! The reasons for that are due in part to the internal political development of Turkey, to its shortcomings with respect to democracy, economic development and the rule of law, but even more to the reservations of the old members of the Union that have been growing since 1963.

6The irony of the history of the last 40 years is that the European Economic Community has meanwhile developed into a political union, while Turkey has become a more strongly Islamic republic, resulting in a quite different context from 1963. Will the end of the story, then, be that an EU now plagued by doubts about identity will refuse entry to a Turkey governed by moderate Islamists, even though the conditions set are being better fulfilled today than ever before? And will the European Union just at this moment, when Turkish society and government are moving ahead with the political transformation demanded of them, call off the experiment in democratization, without being able to offer a tangible alternative below the level of full membership?

7The debate on Turkey’s EU membership, to which both supporters and opponents have contributed serious arguments, comes in two parts: one strand documents the process of European self-discovery, oriented to principles and mainly relating to the old members, establishing their identity by contrast to Turkey—as was done in the past by contrast to the “Orient.” In this debate we can discern five concepts of identity (and the corresponding objections):

  • Europe as a geographical space with fixed natural boundaries (against which may be set the a priori eccentric identity of Europe and its great extra-territorial influence);
  • Europe as a historically shaped community with a common memory and destiny (devalued by a waning historical consciousness);
  • Europe as heir to the Christian West (contradicted by rapid de- Christianisation and growing religious pluralism);
  • Europe as a capitalist market community with welfare state elements (questionable because of neoliberal globalization);
  • Europe as bulwark of democracy and human rights (which as universal values and norms cannot be regionally restricted).

8The other strand of the debate is concerned, as opposed to the background of the last two assumptions, with the more “technical” question of whether, and when, Turkey fulfils the criteria that the EU Commission and heads of government laid down at the EU summit in Copenhagen in December of 2002. In addition to economic performance, they measure, above all, the success of democratization and actual progress in human, civil and minority rights.

9What is taking place under these very precise conditions is the breathtaking experiment of a policy of social and political change in a sovereign state (Drittstaat) implemented from outside and likewise evaluated externally. It is an experiment that has attracted too little attention. Following the program of forced Westernization that the Turkish Republic has already been following since 1923, this makes the Turkey’s current accession process one of the most exciting democratization projects in modern history, comparable in its radicalism to the modernization of Japan that began in the 19th century. It is also a good example of the fact that a human rights policy in international relations is no longer mere rhetoric, but produces conclusive, possibly irreversible, results. With reference to the Reflection Group’s Europe Paper, it is not a question of how much Turkey Europe can bear (or the other way round). It is, rather, a question of the ability of the Old World to enforce the option of civil democratization in a foreseeable situation of intensified conflict in the geopolitically delicate region of the “Greater Middle East.”

10The qualification of a country for membership is judged first by the extent to which democracy as a way of life has been achieved, which does not simply mean regular democratic elections, but also an independent judiciary, a fair penal system, respect for the cultural rights of ethnic and religious minorities as well as basic and civil rights in general and, not least of all, civilian control of the military. This allows for some kind of measurement as to how long the path to a liberal and pluralist democracy actually still is in Turkey.

11At the same time, however, it cannot simply be assumed, that democratization will proceed everywhere in accordance with the same pattern. Rather, it will display cultural undertones and refinements, which must be respected. Democratization after 1945 was everywhere linked to the model character of Western societies and to market liberalization. The specific dialectic of the Turkish path is that democratization went along with, and was accelerated by, a movement of re-Islamization, and so was ultimately based on a desire for religious freedom and cultural autonomy. That in turn allows one to understand the strain that such a transformation brings with it for a secular, unitary republic like Turkey that deliberately disregards such particularisms.

12A second criterion is the economic strength of a society, and this currently puts Turkey at the level of a not particularly stable, if fast developing, country. But this gap also holds true, by and large, for other aspiring members, and the related risks are already present. This is thanks to associations through the customs unions as well as to the multitude of transnational relations between companies in Turkey itself and in the “diaspora” of Germany and other EU states that are simultaneously sources of economic dynamism and integration. It must not be forgotten that a European Union with the goal of being a social union, with approximately equal living standards throughout its territory, faces greater pressures of expectation and adaptation than a more loosely structured free trade area.

13The third security policy criterion is often articulated in the current debate in terms of the provocative question of whether the EU wants to find itself sharing a border with Iraq. This is, first of all, an allusion to the Kurdish question, which is seen as the principal internal political problem standing in the way of Turkey’s desire for membership, but it also alludes to the geopolitical dynamic in the whole Near and Middle East, where the reduced strategic significance of Turkey as a NATO member since 1990 should also be taken into account. Against this background, the EU must ask itself whether it would be better in the long-term to turn the explosive potential of “North Iraq” into an internal matter, or to try to keep it at arm’s length and continue to delegate the problem to the U.S. or medium-sized regional powers.

14This alternative once again poses the question of the “old” and “new” Europe, but in a different way: do we want a “Fortress Europe,” keeping its distance both from the oriental trouble spots and also from the U.S., deepening its association (rather than extending it) to create a European federal state with a more or less “europhile” periphery? Or do we want an expanded EU, aiming at a capability for worldwide intervention, which could pursue quasi-imperial policies, explicitly competing with the U.S., but with more benevolent goals than the latter? Each alternative’s policy toward Turkey, but also toward Syria and Iran, would be substantially different. It poses a difficult choice, but a choice that must be made.

15For those who want to “deepen” Europe, then, the relative poverty of Turkey, the future size of its population, the Anatolian coloring of its democracy, the presumed otherness of Islam and, not least of all, potential conflicts with its neighbors will all be cause for alarm. Those, on the other hand, who would like to expand the Union will place their trust in the potential of the developing Turkish economy, in the great number of new (and young) EU citizens, in Islamic variants of democracy, in the building of bridges to Central Asia and the Gulf, and, not least of all, in the prospect of a pacification of the whole region.

16Translated from the German by Martin Chalmers


Claus Leggewie is Professor of Political Science and Director of the Center of Media and Interactivity at the University of Giessen, Germany. Recently author of Die Globalisierung und ihre Gegner, München, 2003.

© Central European University Press, 2005

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