Ankara (AsiaNews) Today EU commissioner Verheugen releases his report on Turkey's progress toward European Union (EU) membership. A green light would undoubtedly boost Turkey's economy. Financial analysts estimated in fact that EU-backed foreign investments in the Eurasian country could generate an extra US$ 208 billion. Joining the EU would also mean it could receive up to US$ 55 billion in EU subsidies.
Unsurprisingly, one consequence would be fewer financial transfers to other member states since the fast-growing Turkish economy (expected annual growth of 7.9 per cent in 2004) still falls far below European averages.
Surveys indicate that Turks are increasingly favourable to entry in Europe with 75 per cent now backing Prime Minister Erdogan's demand to join the EU against 67 per cent last year. Support rises to 80 per cent among Turkey's Kurds who tend to be more pro-EU than the rest of the population since Turkish application for EU membership has already meant an official recognition of Kurdish ethnic and linguistic rights.
By the time the transition is completed Turkey is likely to be the most populous EU member. Today's 70 million Turks would boost the proportion of European Muslims from 3 to about 20 per cent.
Ankara's application has led to different reactions among EU members. The United Kingdom, Italy, Spain, Portugal, Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic, Slovakia and Ireland are in favour. Austria and Luxembourg are decidedly against. The positions of countries like Denmark, Hungary, Poland, Belgium, the Netherlands, Slovenia, Cyprus, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia remain uncertain.
In Germany Chancellor Schroeder and his government have backed Turkey's application but public opinion and the opposition are against. In a recent survey conducted for the weekly Stern 55 per cent of respondents said they were opposed to a European Turkey even though Germany is home to some three million Turkish immigrants. Even former chancellor Helmut Kohl (whose son is married to a Turkish woman) said he was against Turkey's membership.
In Greece, Turkey's historic "enemy", the government's support for Turkey's entry is not well received in the population. Public opinion polls indicate that most Greeks are opposed to Turkey's entry.
In France opinions diverge as well. President Chirac supports Ankara's bid but has proposed a referendum on Turkey's application. For former French President Giscard d'Estaing, father of Europe's new constitution, "Turkey's entry would spell the end of the European Union since Turkey is not a European country." He stressed that "its capital is not in Europe, 95 per cent of its population does not live in the continent, [it] has a different culture and its entry in the EU would mark the end of Europe".
The Vatican's Secretary of State, Card Angelo Sodano, stated that the Holy See was "neutral" on the issue. However, Card Joseph Ratzinger said that Ankara's entry in Europe "runs against history". In an interview with French daily Le Figaro, Ratzinger stated that "Turkey has always represented a continent that clashed with Europe".
EU leaders are also not of one mind. Current European Commission President Romano Prodi supports Turkey's entry but for incoming president José Manuel Durao Barroso "Turkey is not ready" for Europe. Similarly, EU commissioners are split. Dutch Commissioner Frits Bolkestein said that "the present EU would implode if 70 million Muslim Turks joined Europe". But Guenther Verheugen, European Enlargement Commissioner in charge of negotiations with Turkey, said that "there are no further conditions which Turkey must fulfil in order to allow the Commission to make a [favourable] recommendation".
Human rights activists are also divided over Turkey's entry into Europe. Ever since the EU formally accepted Turkey's application 22 months ago, the Turkish government and parliament have adopted several legal and political reforms, among them the abolition of the death penalty, recognition of minority rights and a ban on torture. Never the less, Human Right Watch (HRW) warns that even though there have undeniably been "constant improvements" the "present situation concerning press freedom, religious freedom and respect of minority rights is far from perfect". HRW is particularly worried that some people are still in prison for their opinions and that torture is still used in many penitentiaries.
The human rights organisation has also urged the Turkish government to solve the problem of Kurdish refugees (about 380,000) displaced during the war between Kurdish nationalists and the Turkish army in the 1990s. (LF)