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Turkey and the Identity of Europe

January 20, 2011

Constantine Arvanitopoulos and Dimitris Keridis in Harvard International Review:

The question of Turkey’s “European-ness” as a precondition for entering the European Union is constantly under debate. In principle, the matter was settled at the EU Summit in Helsinki in December 1999, when Turkey was accepted as a legitimate candidate country. Kalypso Nicolaidis, a professor of International Relations and the Director of the European Studies Centre at Oxford University asserts that, “Helsinki shifted the question from essentialist considerations of Turkey’s “European-ness” to functionalist considerations of Turkey’s preparedness.” At that time, the European leaders, in opposition to European public opinion, agreed that Turkey is a European nation, at least according to the Treaty of Rome. According to their view, Turkey has every right to become a full member of the European Union, provided that it complies with the acquis communautaire, or the body of all EU norms and laws. While the full body of European regulations that Turkey needs to adopt runs to around 120,000 pages and is still increasing, the core of the acquis has to do with democracy and the rule of law. For the European Union’s decision in Helsinki, the problem is not the religion of Turkey, which cannot change, but its politics. In that sense, Turkey is no different than other candidate countries, like Croatia. Yet, it would be wrong to think so.

No matter what the official policy statements are, Turkey’s candidacy is intimately intermingled with Europe’s current identity politics and its anxiety about the rising number of immigrants, especially Muslims. [More]

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