The European debate

“The Commission considers that Turkey sufficiently fulfills the political criteria and recommends that accession negotiations be opened.» The above phrase sums up the core of the much-anticipated report of the European Commission on Greece’s eastern neighbor which was made public yesterday. The report by the EU’s executive arm held no surprises in store. Turkish Foreign Minister Abdullah Gul rightly hailed the decision as an «historic step» for both Turkey and the 25-member bloc. Repeated statements by Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis have made it clear that the Greek government backs Ankara’s EU ambitions as it considers that potential Turkish membership would be in Greece’s national interest as well. There is good reason to believe that should Ankara bring its practices and behavior in line with European standards, this would open the door to a peaceful settlement of Greek-Turkish disputes as well as the Cyprus problem. It goes without saying that the Greek government has strong reasons – perhaps stronger than any other country – to keep a close eye on Turkey’s gradual adaptation to the stipulations of international law. Besides, it’s hard to imagine Turkey’s accession negotiations being completed before Ankara withdraws its occupation forces from Cyprus and before it lifts the casus belli against Greece if Athens extends its territorial waters to 12 miles. Turkey will be under constant and strict monitoring. The report mentioned that «the Commission will recommend the suspension of the negotiations in the case of a serious and persistent breach of the principles of liberty, democracy, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the rule of law on which the Union is founded.» It is important that these pledges be upheld to the full. Leaving aside Athens’s differences with Ankara, Turkey’s EU accession will have a defining effect on the future shape of a united Europe and the radical transformation of the Turkish state itself. It is no coincidence that the debate on Europe has heated up in France, Germany, Austria, the Netherlands and other European countries: What is the future of Europe? What would Turkish membership suggest about the limits and the identity of Europe? Is Turkey a European country? Would its accession mark the bloc’s expansion into the Arab world, the Caucasus, or Israel? Unfortunately, the Greek public has yet to be drawn into this very interesting debate.