Wednesday, February 14, 2007

The Idea of Europe

In an article published in the journal Foreign Affairs during the summer of 1993, Harvard political scientist Prof Samuel P. Huntington hypothesised about what he saw as a possible emergence of a new source of conflict in the Post Cold War world. He famously called his idea ‘The Clash of Civilisations’.

In his article Huntingdon explored the likelihood that with the halt of the geopolitical clash of ideologies and interests that had characterised the Cold War, conflicts of the future would instead more likely occur where there was simply a fault line of culture. His argument was that where in the past political ideology and geo politics had divided the major powers they still retained the essential bond of all being of the same ‘Civilisation’. In a future, with the near annulment of all global ideologically-based confrontations, fault lines may emerge instead where other differences occur, most notably of culture, religion and even race.

It seems that recent history is unfortunately proving Professor Huntington to be largely correct. The ethnic divides leading to the wars following the break-up of the former Yugoslavia, the continuing failure of the warring parties in the Middle East in finding a peaceful solution and the Iraq catastrophe are all examples of sorts of ethnic/civilisation divides resulting in horrific outcomes, as before all were in one way or another pinned down by an overarching global rivalry.

It is one such divide that is currently causing debate across much of Europe. The issue is that of Turkey and its claim of a European identity. It is clear that what is causing the procrastination in many (mostly Western) European Capitals is not whether or not Turkey is politically ready or willing for Union, militarily allied to or even geographically Europe, but the unease felt by many towards what differentiates Turkey from much of the rest of the Continent.

The Turkish population is overwhelmingly Muslim and numbers over 80 million, roughly the same as Germany. What many Western politicians openly fear is an influx of migrant Turkish labour upon membership being achieved, following trends seen after the admission of the first states from the former Eastern Bloc. Politicians in France, Italy and Austria have openly stated their belief that Europe is a Christian continent and must stay that way.

The subject of eventual Turkish accession to the Union and full European rights being given to its populace has become a political football within the Union itself. Traditionally sceptic states such as the UK and the Scandinavian members are generally in favour of Turkish membership. Many believe this is because it may lead to a diluting of the Union and that therefore the more Euro sceptic states back Turkish membership as they know that the ‘core’ members who traditionally back further integration will resist if confronted by the fear of a ‘Turkish influx’ of people and Islamic culture - if Turkey ever gains full membership.

This wavering by the 27 member EU is having damaging consequences for the Union's relations with the Turkish state. Some opposition parties in Ankara have already begun to seize on some of the more negative comments coming from Brussels as a sign that the recent, sometimes painful, changes Turkey has made to bring itself in line for membership have not been worth it as they will never be accepted by a Christian Europe. Instead, certain right wing groups are calling for closer ties not with the West but with the East and with a rededication to the Muslim heritage of the state. This will be clearly in contrast to the moves made by recent Turkish governments to draw clearer distinctions between religion and government activity.

What is surely clear since the end of the Cold War is that what Europe has represented to those outside it is not just the formation of a ‘United States of Europe’, a lucrative new trade bloc or secure membership of a military alliance, but essentially the liberal and co-operative ideals of its founders forged as they were from the ashes of the Second World War. It is in truth this liberalism that caused the disolvement of the Spanish and Portuguese Dictatorships of the late 1970s and early 1980s, helped hasten the end of the Cold War, and speeded the liberalising reforms since introduced by a vast majority of the former Eastern Bloc which now act as a beacon to countries once thought far beyond Europe’s boundaries.

In 20 years Europe could include Turkey, Belarus, Ukraine, Serbia, and Albania and maybe even Georgia and Azerbaijan, including all that these rich and diverse populations have to offer the old continent. Europe with Turkish membership would even border Iraq. The effect of having a large, liberal and inclusive neighbour to the north of that most troubled of nations can only be seen as being positive for Iraq, Europe and the wider world.

The ability to show that the religion or the culture of a state should not bar membership to the European Union is surely essential in maintaining the ideals and dynamism of the European Project and at the same time in a wider context showing that Samuel Huntington’s theory of a cultural divide occurring in the world remain just that; a theory.

[Blogging by Dan]

1 comment:

F said...

Undoubtedly Turkey joining the Eu will do a great job for prosperity and peace in that area of the world. But what for the dream of european integration? Do we want to create a free trade zone or a political union? The latter may require a 2tier europe if turkey joins in. turks want to share our wealth (and rightly so) but dont give a damn about federalism.