Turkey and Europe: An Invitation To Dance?

Turkey and Europe: An Invitation To Dance?

ANKARA, Turkey -- Not since the disintegration of the Ottoman Empire -- the seat of the 400-year old Turkish Muslim caliphate -- have Europeans been so preoccupied with Turkey. As poor Muslim immigrants from the Middle East and Africa flood the gates of Europe in search of work, the prospect of Turkey's accession into the EU has provoked the EU's most heated existential crisis to date.

Turkey, the gateway between Europe and the Middle East, began its Europeanizing mission well over half a century ago when it first applied to join what was then called the European Economic Community. Until the 1990s, however, Europe was not interested. Beset by persistent accusations that the EU was running a cozy, cohesive "Christian Club," Brussels' bureaucrats softened their position -- provided that Turkey bring into force several pieces of reform legislation. A country intent on staying on the European menu, Turkey embarked on a fierce journey, to align itself with European norms. Indeed, since 1999 Turkey has made great strides towards human rights protection, greater civilian oversight of the military, and the exercise of fundamental freedoms.

However, reaching a compromise with Turkey continues to represent one of the biggest challenges faced by the world's most exclusive club in more than three decades of admitting new nations. "Turkey is big, poor and populous," the Economist wrote in the fall of last year. Annual per capita income in Turkey hovers around $4,900, compared to the EU average of $26,000. The inflation rate in Turkey stands at 20 percent whereas in Europe it is only 2 percent. Annual population growth in Turkey is 1.2 percent, whereas the rate in the Union is 0.15 percent. On the political front, in spite of all the progress Turkey has made, the festering Kurdish question remains unsolved. Preceded by scores of attacks at tourist destinations, the mid-September terrorism in Diyarbakir that killed dozens, including five children, drove this somber message home.

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