January 28, 2008: The World Economic Forum held
annually in Davos, Switzerland provides an opportunity for
political and economic leaders to exchange ideas and reflect on
the future. However, this past weekend Turkish foreign minister
Ali Babacan raised a question once asked by former Turkish
Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz some ten years ago.
During a visit to Washington D.C. in December 1997 to seek
support for his country's bid for EU membership, Yilmaz accused
former German Chancellor Helmut Kohl of wanting to make the EU
into a "Christian club." Kohl had said earlier that the EU was
founded on Christian principles, a statement that Yilmaz
interpreted as intended primarily for his country with its
predominantly Muslim population.
In comments to reporters made outside the WEF meeting,
Babacan said a European Union with only "Christian" members
would be "against the very soul of the EU." Babacan's comments
may be an attempt to diffuse concerns in Europe over the
direction his government is taking on lifting the ban on the
Muslim head covering for
women at Turkish universities. Babacan regretted that
the issue of religion had apparently become a factor in the
debate on Turkey's bid for EU membership.
Although French President Nicolas Sarkozy has been less
vocal on the issue in recent weeks, he made headlines after
taking office last May with his strong opposition to Turkish
membership. Sarkozy argued that Turkey, being a predominantly
Muslim country, really does not belong in Europe. Germany's
grand coalition government is officially committed to
continuing the EU negotiations on Turkish membership, but
Angela Merkel's party allies repeatedly emphasize that the
negotiations are open-ended with no predetermined outcome.
After Turkey refused to provide access to its ports for
unrestricted trade with EU member Cyprus in 2006, the EU froze
negotiations on eight chapters of the negotiation package.
Presently Turkey has initiated talks in six of the 35 policy
areas that are a part of the membership negotiation
Babacan also argued that a European Union with Turkey as a
member could possibly serve as a bridge between the Christian
West and the Islamic world. That viewpoint is also popular
among European politicians who support Turkish membership.
Others, however, continue to be afraid of Turkey and even
wonder whether the Turkish military might intervene in
domestic politics to protect the Kemalist doctrine of
separation of church and state.