Byline: Andrew Borowiec,THE WASHINGTON TIMES
NICOSIA, Cyprus - The statement was blunt: Turkey is not a European country and its admission by the European Union would lead to that organization's demise.
Valery Giscard d'Estaing, a former French president now in charge of drafting the EU's future constitution, made the statement 12 days ago, and it was more than a jolt.
It was a blow to Muslim Turkey's self-esteem and to its aspirations - an ominous portent in its relations with the European Union and its future role on the continent. In effect, it implied the possibility of this key ally's rejection by what one Turkish politician described as "a Christian club."
Turkey "has a different culture, a different approach, a different way of life. ... It is not a European country," Mr. Giscard said, adding that Turkey's capital, Ankara, "is not in Europe" and "95 percent of its population lives outside Europe."
[The boundaries of "Europe" as a cultural space have varied during history, but a common definition of its geographic limits is that Europe extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the west to Russia's Ural Mountains, Ural River and the Caspian Sea in the east, and from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Mediterranean Sea, the Black Sea and the Caucasus Mountains in the south. However, Europe and Asia are not completely separated by water or mountains, and some geographers insist they are part of the same continent.]
Distinctions of culture as cited by Mr. Giscard d'Estaing or based on religion have often been mentioned by European officials behind closed doors, but never in public. In Brussels, the seat of the European Commission, Turkey's candidacy has often been described as a "delayed-action bomb."
A number of officials feel that Turkey would be too cumbersome with its huge area, population of 66 million, high birthrate, Islamic faith and low standard of living.
Despite its small toehold on the west bank of the waterway between the Black and Mediterranean seas, Turkey has been considered a "European power" for several centuries, is a member of NATO and of the Strasbourg, France-based Council of Europe, a deliberative body without significant influence.
In 1999, Turkey was officially accepted as an EU candidate, but no date was set for its membership negotiations.
More important, Mr. Giscard d'Estaing, head of the European Union's constitutional convention, said the draft in progress does not include Turkey. It stops at the European Union's expansion from the present 15 members to 25 by 2004, plus two more countries - Bulgaria and Romania - some time later.
"We are basing everything on a Europe of 25 plus two - period," he was quoted as saying Nov. 8 in the liberal French daily Le Monde. He said if Turkey was allowed to join, Middle Eastern and North African countries would follow, "and it would be the end of the European Union."
"Giscard drops an EU bombshell on Turkey," was a banner headline in the English-language Cyprus Mail.
The Turkish delegate to the constitutional convention promptly branded the blunt chairman as a "Christian fundamentalist." The European Union's enlargement commissioner Guenter Verheugen said he favored Turkey's desire to join the wealthy club, but without a date for negotiations.
"The remarks of President Giscard have created a credibility gap in the mind of Turkish citizens," he said.
The French government quickly distanced itself from the statement of its former president. Some EU officials demanded his resignation. In Turkey, an irate editorial writer asked: "If Jews can be Europeans, why not Turks?"
Nonetheless, the impact of Mr. Giscard d'Estaing's statement lingers on, and with it considerable soul-searching and an examination of the country considered to be in both Europe and Asia.
The question asked by politicians is mainly about the timing of the outspoken Frenchman's interview - a few weeks before the European Union's summit in Copenhagen, at which Turkey hopes to hear a definite date for its membership-application talks. …