Demographics is destiny, or so the saying goes. Nowhere is this more relevant than in the current controversy surrounding the Turkish membership bid for the EU. Turkey’s population is over 70 million, and is rising fast. Over 25% of the Turkish population is under 16. In fact, on present trends, it will be more populous than Germany by 2020, and would have the greatest voting strength in the EU Even as it is now, Turkey would be the second largest nation by votes, dramatically reducing the influence of current member states in critical institutions and permanently altering the EU’s character.
There are other concerns too. Colonel Gaddafi once claimed “Turkey will be an Islamic Trojan Horse inside the European Union if it is allowed to join the bloc, to the advantage of Al Qaeda terror chief Osama Bin Laden and other extremists”and while I do not often look to the Libyan dictator for advice, on this occasion, he is right. Islamic extremism is on the rise in Turkey, as is more mainstream political Islamism. The Justice and Development Party’s (AKP) recent electoral success shows a renewed traditionalist and religious agenda. Many Turks themselves are worried, as is the Army, which is entrusted with maintenance of the secular establishment. Human rights applications in Turkey would grant such extremists enormous liberties of speech and movement within the Union, itself a major concern. A few more Abu Hamzas per chance?
Coupled to this would be the new EU borders with Iran, Iraq and Syria. Challenging terrain and difficult neighbours would make policing the Unions borders all the more difficult. And where will this border expansion stop? Morocco? Russia? Lebanon maybe? After all Lebanon is more culturally European than Turkey, as in a sense is Israel, the only middle eastern democracy, which already takes part in the Eurovision song contest.
Turkey then, is culturally different. The fact that it is a Muslim country is not the primary problem. Although the EU is often seen as a “Christian Club”, Brussels is fundamentally secular, as is much of the Turkish establishment. But, on issues such as freedom of speech, Turkey appears distinctly un-European. It prosecutes writers and journalists who do not toe the national line. In 2005 a man was tried and imprisoned for challenging compulsory military service, for which all other European nations have an alternative option.
Turkey’s position is in breach of European Human Rights norms, and although I have many reservations about the premises upon which human rights are based, the EU is so obsessed with them, it only seems right to cross-examine Turkey’s record. In the same year, best-selling author Orhan Pamuk was tried under Article 301 for insulting the national character, an incident even the EU described as “regrettable”. Turkish journalists have often protested at what they see as limited freedom of speech. As the imposition of democracy in Iraq has shown, cultures don’t change overnight. With that in mind, is it sensible to invite Turkey into the fold in the hope that one day they might change, conveniently forgetting they will control a fifth of the EU’s voting power?
More on this tomorrow.
Edward Leigh MP