COMMENT: Turkey's accession to the EU - a matter of conviction?

By bne IntelliNews June 13, 2008

Norbert Walter of Deutsche Bank Research -

In the enlightened societies of the Western world, there is a stubborn belief that it is possible to persuade people to change their minds on an issue by putting forward good arguments of one's own. What else could be the motivation for intellectuals with a Western university education? Well it's true, even dozens of talk shows live off this mistaken belief: at the end of a show a position which is legitimated by arguments is thought to be at least more convincing. The fact that this is usually not the case does not reduce the belief in the power of arguments in any way. There is no denying that this misconception is driven by self-deceit, however small: we firmly believe that our views are based on facts and knowledge. The reality is different, however: in most cases, opinions do not follow the argument but the argument follows the opinion. The idea is not new; back in 1940 the Austrian-born American Paul F. Lazarsfeld, who made an important contribution to communication research, stated in his paper, "The People's Choice," that voters are mainly interested in information that supports their political convictions. Since Jürgen Habermas at the latest, the relationship between knowledge and interest has been an integral part of sociological theory.

Hiding preconceived opinions behind arguments becomes most obvious when issues of principle are under debate. For example, family policy, socialism or capitalism, nuclear energy - and Turkey's accession to the European Union. Especially with regard to the issue of Turkey, some kind of religious war has started to unfold which only at first glance resembles a debate. A closer look reveals that on both sides committed dogmatists are struggling who have collected evidence only to support their conviction. The "Old Left" sees a chance to implement the Multicultural Project on a European scale. They want to snuggle up to each other. Conservative hardliners are afraid of another Turkish march on Vienna and fear the decline of the West. They feel like warriors in the final battle to save Western civilization. Both positions fail to understand the importance of the accession process. The chief motivation to support Turkish EU membership is not just to make the EU more colourful or add to its variety. And we cannot afford to maintain the status quo at any price and preserve "Europe, vintage 2008" while the world around us changes ever faster. And taking a stand on behalf of the "Christian" occident that has ceased to exist - at last Sunday's mass in Millstatt in Austria the church was 10% full, and the youngest person was a lady of 50 - cannot be our motivation. Rather, we have to explore and possibly accept the potential challenges of a historic opportunity being offered. An opportunity to imbue the EU with greater political and economic power, open up new markets and win new allies, give fresh impetus and maintain it. Like any opportunity, Turkey's accession is subject to risks, which have to be weighed up against the opportunities. Whoever rejects accession by pointing to current events - such as a lack of tolerance towards Christians - deliberately ignores that the development of Europe has again and again been fuelled by the integration process itself (such as democracy and pluralism in Portugal and Spain).

In a paper published some weeks ago, I spoke out in favour of Turkey's EU accession, as, among other considerations, Turkey stands a good chance of achieving an economic miracle. If the political situation in Turkey remains stable - and the prospects of EU accession are an important anchor for this - Turkey's economic potential opens the way for a continued strong growth performance. Are these prospects sufficient to regard the issue of accession as a causa finita? No, an open debate on Turkey's EU accession must be possible and is indispensable. But maybe a less ideological approach would benefit the debate. A somewhat more relaxed attitude on both sides, a better feeling for change in the air and the willingness to adapt one's own view to changes in the environment. Today's Turkey is as different from Turkey back in the 1950s as Germany after unification from Germany in the Adenauer era. It would be very helpful for Turkey and the EU if the mutual economic and cultural relationship were recognised more actively. I am grateful to the Turkish companies in Turkey and especially in Germany; they ensure the visibility of the cooperation that already exists by launching plenty of initiatives.

Not a question of geography

Rejection of Turkey's accession to the European Union is currently based on two main arguments: First, only 5% of the Turkish land mass lies in Europe. This fact is simply unrefutable. However, to base important decisions for the economic and political future of our community on an arbitrary border is questionable. Much of our history and culture has benefited from this border being crossed: Homer, Alexander the Great and the Roman emperors are the evidence of this. The second argument is that the EU allegedly is currently not politically able to accept more members. This notion cannot be denied given the institutional lethargy - e.g. the EU Treaty. This is not so much a Turkish problem, it is an EU problem. If the debate on Turkish accession contributes to make Europe more adaptable, flexible and easier to govern, Europe's relative weight in the world is set to gain strongly. The chances of success are good. If the EU stays on course and Turkey remains committed to its reform course, it could join the EU within 15 years.

The EU and Turkey have achieved a lot together since the 1960s. We should not foolishly squander the opportunity to fully exploit the potential of this relationship. All those with an ideological approach who are seeking arguments should take inspiration from Horst Köhler's position according to which it is part of our European culture of the rule that contracts must be fulfilled. In the case of Turkey, this means that the heads of European states and governments agreed to Turkey's EU accession talks. The accession negotiations are on their way. The best thing for Europe and Turkey to do is to cooperate, learn from each other, and advance together; this is on my wish list for the new Europe.

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