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Tuesday, 9 July, 2002, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Turkey - bridge between East and West
Turkish military officers
Role of the military: One of the issues to be resolved

A French foreign minister, when asked once if Turkey should join the European Community (as the European Union then was) replied: "Is it in Europe?"

The answer, from both Turkey and the European Union, is increasingly "yes".

Although most of Turkey's land mass is in Asia, it has a geographical foothold on the European continent - on which the wonderful city of Istanbul is located - and appears to have taken a national decision that its future lies more in Europe than in Asia.

It is possible that within 10 years or so Turkey will become a member state of the EU

It is sometimes argued in Europe that Turkey's Muslim population would make it hard, if not impossible, for it to join the European Union. But it is a secular state and most Turks seem to want it to remain so.

Turkey has already started amending its constitution and laws to enable negotiations for EU entry to begin.

The constitution was drawn up in 1982 when the country was under military rule and gives the military the right to intervene if it thinks that national security is endangered.

It is possible that within 10 years or so, Turkey could become a member state of the EU.

A bridge

Ideally, it would be a bridge between Europe and Asia. It would be an important strategic member of the Union, just as it has been as a member of Nato.

The stability of Turkey and its development as a democracy therefore matter.

What also matters is that a number of serious problems surrounding Turkey's future are solved.

There is first the issue of Cyprus. The EU wants Cyprus to join as one of the next wave of entrants in 2004, ideally as a united island. Turkey appears to be withholding approval for reunification as part of its own negotiating position.

There is also Turkey's relationship with Greece, which periodically turns into a crisis. This largely depends on there being a settlement in Cyprus. The Greeks have a veto over Turkey's EU entry and will be quick to use it if it is not satisfied.

Turkey needs to show that it will not veer off into political extremism..or political repression

And internally, Turkey has a long way to go. Its human rights record is under constant scrutiny and frequent criticism.

It needs to show that it will not veer off into religious extremism on the one hand and polticial repression on the other.

Earthquake revelations

The earthquake in 1999 revealed disorganisation in government which allowed the spread of badly constructed houses and blocks of flats in earthquake prone areas simply because it was convenient and cheap for workers to be housed there.

Turkey earthquake, 1999
The 1999 earthquake revealed disorganisation

The collapse of so many buildings and the discovery that basic building requirements had been ignored was an indictment of the system.

The role of the military has also got to be resolved.

This is no easy task. One of the most lavish buildings in Istanbul is the military museum (where captured British banners from the First World War are on display) and the money spent on it shows where the power in the land lies.

Example of Ataturk

The military takes its authority from the example of the country's first great modern leader, Kemal Ataturk, who set a new secular course after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire.

He was determined to end Turkey's position as the "sick man of Europe", and it has taken a long time to achieve that.

But if all goes right, then Turkey could emerge as a force for stability in the region. It has already developed links into Central Asia and has taken over as leader of the international peacekeeping force in Kabul.

There would be a great prize if Turkey, which in the Middle Ages battered on the gates of Vienna, could find its place in Europe.

Turkey's election

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09 Jul 02 | Business
25 Jun 02 | Europe
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