04/26/2008, 00.00
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Austria reminds Ankara of the need for full religious freedom

by NAT da Polis
On a visit to Turkey, the Austrian foreign minister expresses her support for the ecumenical patriarch, and her appreciation for his efforts for interreligious coexistence. She also emphasises that Turkey's membership in the EU is not a given. The roots of the reluctance of German-speaking nations over Ankara's admission.

Ankara (AsiaNews) - The European Union continues to urge Ankara to speed up reforms along the path of its integration into Europe.  At the same time, the EU is not abandoning its indirect support for prime minister Erdogan out of fear of negative repercussions for the country following the possible outlawing of his AKP party.

During the Istanbul forum in 2008, a representative of the European Parliament, Vural Öger, said that the prohibition of the AKP party would certainly put an end to Turkey's European hopes.  And the European enlargement commissioner, Oli Rehn, in a recent interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, has also stated: "if Turkey continues along the path of reform, I maintain that within 10 or at most 15 years it will become a full member of the EU, and the shutdown of the AKP would harm this process of integration".

The Austrian foreign minister, Ursula Plassnik, used the opportunity of a visit to Turkey to pay homage to ecumenical patriarch Bartholomew I, and to express her support for him: the patriarch, she maintained, contributes tirelessly, both personally and through his office, to the promotion of interreligious dialogue, to the reinforcement of better understanding among human beings, and in his effort to build a world where everyone can live without fear, practice his religion freely, or live without any religious creed.  "I think this is how the conception of religious freedom should be interpreted, as it must be guaranteed in the social life of the EU.  Religious freedom is one of the presuppositions for the whole of Europe's values and ideals.  It is part of the negotiations for countries asking to enter [the European Union]".

Shortly before this, in a joint conference with Turkish foreign minister Ali Babacan, Plassnik had stated that the entry of Turkey into the EU will not be automatic.  For his part, Babacan insisted only upon full membership.  The patriarch himself, in an interview with Cyprian journalist A. Viketos, has restated that the ecumenical patriarchate is in favour of Turkey's full membership in the EU.

So on the one hand, there is visible support for the attempt at reform promoted by Erdogan, but on the other there is a certain reluctance over Turkey's entry into the EU.  It is a reluctance that is rooted above all in German-speaking European countries, which is explained in part by the resistance to integration shown by Turkish immigrant communities in these countries.

This attitude, according to sociological studies and diplomatic and journalistic sources, is due in part to the manipulation suffered by these communities on the part of Turkish institutions, with close ties to the derin devlet (the "deep state"), which use various associations to this end.  This blocks their emancipation, and the possibility that this would be brought back to the country of origin.  This would bring beneficial effects to Turkish society and institutions, moulding it according to the true European model.

The imams have played a fundamental role in this process.  The imams are greatly resented by the secular state in Turkey, but in its hands they have become an excellent instrument for controlling the Turkish communities abroad.  Besides, in the Turkish tradition more praise and emphasis is given to the concept of conquest than to that of liberalisation and freedom.  To the concept, in short, of knowing how to concede.

Photo: Nikos Manginas

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Turkey hails membership talks, UE dampens enthusiasm
EU Commissioner says Turkey's entry will end European integration
EU critical of Turkey's progress, stops short of freezing talks, sets deadline
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