Turkey Belongs in the European Union ; Full Turkish Membeship Would Do Much to Stabilize Its Turbulent Middle East Neighborhood

Article excerpt

It's time for policymakers of the 25 European Union (EU) nations, as well as leaders of 70 million Turks, to take a deep breath, step back, and carefully consider whether it's wise to halt or impede Turkey's effort to join the EU.

Turkey's pro-Western government, along with a majority of its business leaders and its secular-minded, Westernized military, is committed to accession. But some Turkish politicians who have favored membership for decades have recently expressed doubts because of widespread European rejection.

Strategic and human considerations favor Turkey's bid, if it has fulfilled all the preconditions - a big "if" at this juncture. Now that EU ministers have postponed a membership progress report from Oct. 24 to Nov. 8, decisionmakers happily have more time to review the pros and cons of this crucial question.

Membership advocates insist that EU rules would stabilize Turkey's economy and political structure.

But objections are growing louder in European capitals. It wasn't always this way. Back in 1959, France invited a wary Turkish government to join the EU's predecessor, the European Economic Community (EEC), as an associate member, which it did in 1963. Today, Nicholas Sarkozy and Segolene Royal, the two front-running candidates in France's 2007 presidential election, and senior politicians in Austria, also facing elections, urge some kind of "privileged relationship" for Turkey, short of full-fledged membership.

Turkey began knocking at Europe's door when it applied to fully join the former European Community in 1987. For more than a decade, it met with refusals, based partly on the Ankara government's poor relations with Greece, especially conflict related to Turkey's 1974 invasion and occupation of northern Cyprus.

In the 1990s, Turkey agreed to a customs union with the EU, abolishing many trade tariffs with its members. Its candidacy got a further boost in 2002, when Turkey's Islamist but pro-European Justice and Development Party (AKP) came to power and began making the reforms necessary for EU accession. Turkish Prime Minister Recip Tayyip Erdogan, a consistent proponent of EU membership, has pushed through abolition of the death penalty, cracked down on torture, and secured more rights for Turkey's substantial Kurdish minority.

Today, support for accession has plummeted among both Turks and Western Europeans, with levels of approval well below 50 percent.

Austria, mindful of its 17th-century role as a bulwark against Turkish invasion of Western Europe, and commentators elsewhere object to having Turkey's 99. …