FUTURE OF EUROPE PASSES THROUGH TURKEY'

Today's Zaman
30 September 2008, Tuesday
Turkey

This is a very strong statement for an intellectual who happens to be
a former French prime minister when almost 80 percent of his fellow
citizens say a definitive "no" to a possible Turkish membership.

Michel Rocard, former French prime minister (1988-1991) and now
a member of the European Parliament, strongly defends the case for
Turkey's membership in his new book "Oui a la Turquie" (Yes to Turkey),
published at the beginning of September.

Fighting against the sentiments of his own people, Rocard seems
to be a real statesman with the vision to look beyond time limits,
where he sees the value of Turkey as a full member. In an exclusive
interview with Today's Zaman in his office at the European Parliament
in Brussels, Rocard first encouraged his fellow Frenchmen and European
politicians to consider while formulating politics what is going on
around Europe and what will happen in the coming decades.

To him, Turkey is indispensable for Europe's future; that is why he
thinks Turkey's membership is Europe's life insurance and that the
future of Europe passes through Turkey. "When I say Turkey's membership
is the EU's life insurance, I mean it in terms of peace in the region
and safe and permanent access to a very important part of the world,"
said Rocard. "The phrase is legally excessive, and in politics anything
can happen. But I use the phrase as it will be much easier for the EU
to have security in its southeast, much easier to reach energy regions
and to be involved in diplomatic problems through Turkey's membership."

Rocard underlined that having Turkey as a member will boost EU
influence in the Middle East given Turkey's good ties with both Israel
and the Palestinians. "Turkey is also next to the Caucasus, which
has large reserves of oil and natural gas. Providing oil and gas is
one of the priorities in terms of the EU's strategic security. Turkey
as a member will mean the enlargement of this peaceful and commonly
managed zone, which would help draw the maps of pipelines and getting
closer to Caucasian resources," he said. Integrating Turkey, a country
with a Muslim population, into the EU will also be the best way to
show that Europe rejects "cultivating a suspicion toward the entire
Muslim world," according to the former French premier.

According to Rocard, Turkey's membership will have huge ramifications
in the Muslim world. "Islam was a fantastic civilization in terms of
science and the life it offered for five centuries, i.e., tolerance,
which we did not have in those times. Since then Islam has given the
impression that it has been blocked and had some difficulty reforming
itself. That is why most Islamic countries apart from Turkey are
dictatorships. Turkey's membership will call for a change in the
whole Islamic world, it is an enormous affair. Maybe it is against
the current regimes but a huge hope for the Islamic people on the
street. It will not be felt only in Turkey, it will be a basic hope
in most Arab countries, to live better lives, to have democracy,
the rule of law and freedom of thought. Membership in the EU would
be enormously helpful in this sense to help Turkey change and present
herself as a model to Muslims all over the world," he said.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy is a staunch opponent of Turkey's
membership in the EU but Rocard said in the interview that the
conservative leader has become less vocal recently as he "is
discovering that accession talks have begun and there is a fair
majority in his Cabinet who support talks with Turkey. He also probably
discovered he is not in a capacity to change the minds of ministers."

According to Rocard, Sarkozy also faces limitations in opposing
Turkey. "I do not know if he will change his mind but I know the
objective conditions within which he can engage in politics. He
could stop accession talks but in the present affairs of the state,
he would not dare. Because then we will have an enormous crisis,
i.e., an internal disagreement within his government and a possible
paralysis of the EU," he explained.

Projected date for entry: 2023

Rocard appeared to welcome the idea of a privileged partnership, which
falls short of full membership, but provided that Turkey also accepts
it. "In a less emotive atmosphere it could be a solution. Maybe even
better for you but till now this idea received a strong rejection
by the Turkish elite and the government. I am ready for it but I
am not ready to support an idea Turks will disagree with strongly,
if not take as an insult," he said.

But the former premier said Turkey should be ready for a process of
deep change to achieve its membership goal since, in its current state,
it is not yet very similar to other EU member countries. He predicted
that 2023 would be an appropriate time for membership. "When I say
2023 I mean we shall not tackle this issue in a hurry, not consider
it an emergency. 2023 is also going to be the 100th anniversary of
the republic so that you can mobilize yourselves for the changes,"
he said. "It is for Turks to say whether 2023 is too distant or
not. You need to introduce huge reforms on human rights, a market
economy, women's conditions, the treatment of the Armenian, Cypriot
and Kurdish issues. These are all possible but will take time."

He expressed confidence in President Abdullah Gul and Prime Minister
Recep Tayyip Erdogan and said the ruling Justice and Development Party
(AK Party) was "competent, serious and hard-working." He also rejected
suggestions that it has a hidden agenda to turn Turkey into an Islamic
state. "Had they had one, they would not have started accession talks
with the EU in the first place," he said.