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Thursday, 14 November, 2002, 12:01 GMT
The changing face of the EU
EU flags
Turkey's inclusion could shift EU power eastwards

Where do the limits of Europe lie? How does the European Union decide where and when it will say enough is enough - no more enlargement?

As the EU prepares to invite 10 new countries to join the club, it is having to wrestle with these questions.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan
A recent report said Turkey still does not meet EU criteria
Why? Because it is also dealing with another applicant, a bigger and more complicated one: Turkey.

The Turks will not be joining the EU any time soon, but they are pressing for a date to begin membership negotiations and the demand from Ankara is splitting the EU down the middle.

Greeks bearing gifts

Countries such as Britain, Germany and Italy want to give the Turks some encouragement.

"We must strengthen the pro-Western forces in Turkey", stresses the German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. "And that can only happen if they are being given a perspective. That perspective is called Europe."

Also among Turkey's supporters within the EU is Greece, its long time adversary in the Aegean and in Cyprus.

Valery Giscard d'Estaing
Giscard d'Estaing said Turkey would destroy the EU

A big surprise? Not really.

The Greek Government has taken a long hard look at the choice it faces.

An angry, disillusioned Turkey shut out of Europe would pose a much greater threat than a country heading towards EU membership, carrying out further reforms in all walks of life.

But there are also those in Europe who believe Turkey has no place in the EU.

When the head of Europe's constitutional convention, Valery Giscard d'Estaing, argues that Turkish membership would mean "the end of the European Union", he is merely saying out loud what others whisper behind the scenes.

Culture clash

Turkey's opponents say it is too big and too "culturally different". The idea of a large Muslim country joining the EU fills them with profound unease. If the Turks were to join, they would - within a few years - have the largest population in the Union.

Turkish Muslim men pray
Some hope Turkey will provide a bridge to other Muslim nations

That would give them the largest delegation in the European Parliament and the biggest number of votes in ministerial councils.

The centre of gravity within the EU would swing decisively eastwards. The French, among others, do not like the sound of that.

And then there is the cultural question. The Pope, for example, wants any future EU constitution to mention "the decisive contribution of Christianity and Christian vision to the history and culture" of Europe.

Can it do that, and accommodate an overwhelmingly Muslim country like Turkey at the same time? The EU has to decide where its priorities lie.

Nato issue

Next month, when EU leaders meet in Denmark, the Turks are expecting some kind of answer.

Pope John Paul II
The Pope is calling for a recognition of Christian influence on Europe

The man who won this month's Turkish general election, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says that "if a date (for negotiations) is not set in Copenhagen, the trust of our people in Europe would be devastated".

It is likely to come down to the wire, and it depends on many things. How much flexibility will Turkey show in negotiations on the United Nations plan to reunify Cyprus? How much further, and how much faster, will it push political reforms?

The European Commissioner for Enlargement, Gunther Verheugen, has already called for action from the incoming government: an explicit public declaration of "zero tolerance" for torture, and the release of political prisoners such as the Kurdish activist Leyla Zana.

Mr Erdogan is already taking steps to comply with Mr Verheugen's suggestions, but a recent Commission report says Turkey still does not meet the criteria for starting membership talks.

But there are broader forces at work as well. Turkey is the only Muslim member of Nato, and it has a border with Iraq.

The United States is pushing its European allies to keep the Turks happy. Washington hopes it could be the place which proves that Islam and Western democracy can co-exist.

But Europe still has not made up its mind. There is a possibility that Turkey could do everything the EU asks of it, and still feel rejected. And then there could be trouble.

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See also:

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