EUROPEAN ENLARGEMENT, immigration and Turkey topped the agenda of a two-day international conference at the Gulbenkian last week. Portuguese President, Jorge Sampaio, and the Gulbenkian Foundation President, Emílio Rui Vilar, opened the New Frontiers of Europe Conference (Conflict and Co-operation in International Relations and European Enlargement – Challenges and Consequences). Academics and former politicians from all over Europe, including former Russian Economics Minister, Yegor Gaidar, took the floor to discuss the strategic implications for Europe’s enlargement: which borders for what kind of Europe?, is Islam compatible with the EU?, ‘Immigrants in the heart of an enlarged Europe – can we afford a lack of policy? and Russia as Europe’s neighbour.
Jean-Louis Bourlanges, French EU parliamentary deputy, argued that “we must define men and women as human beings and not by race, religion or ideology.”
He said that the cold war had created an artificial Europe, divided by contradictory ideological values that had not been resolved since 1989. “We must think of the frontiers of Europe as ending at the Atlantic frontier, not according to historical and shifting geographical boundaries.”
He argued that it was senseless to define Europe as simply ‘Christian countries’ when there were 16 million Muslims living within the EU. “We cannot limit the EU to just those who share a history of common values from the Roman Empire and Christianity, but rather those who today share similar political objectives,” he added.
Daniel Hamilton, Transatlantic Relations expert at John Hopkins University in the US, argued that the enlargement of the EU had proved the most successful strategic foreign policy initiative of all time. “It has projected EU influence way beyond its borders and the creation of the Stability Pact provided conditions to transform and stabilise the entire European region.” He argued that Turkey was a cornerstone and that there was still unfinished business in the Balkans. Hamilton said that history had shown that time does not heal all wounds in conflicts, giving Kosovo as an example, and added that Turkey had made wide-ranging changes in the political sphere, which were ‘breathtaking’.
“The critics argue it is too poor, too big and too Muslim. I don’t understand that attitude,” he argued. “Economic growth is a precondition for social justice and if they are ready for painful change then we must keep the door open for membership to our institutions.”
He went on to add that it was important not to ignore Russia and the Ukraine and build stability there. He saw the EU as a way to avoid future Kosovo, Sudan and Rwanda- style conflicts.
Ragip Duran spoke about Turkey and Islam being compatible with the EU and argued that religion should have nothing to do with the EU question. “When people talk about Turkey they don’t talk about a democratic country, they talk about 65 million Muslims! Sometimes the EU appears like a club of historians full of prejudices about crusades and infidels that are difficult to get rid of,” he said. “The reality is that Europe’s Muslims participate in the social, economic and political life of EU countries. The church, synagogue and mosque should bear no relation to a multi-national, multi-ethnic Europe. We don’t make the same distinctions between vegetarians and meat eaters in the EU do we?”
Finally, Roxane Silberman argued that it was statistically untrue to say that EU enlargement encouraged floods of illegal immigration. Rather, she stated that unstable situations outside EU countries had contributed toward these phenomena, citing Kosovo and Albania as good examples. “We can say that countries entering the EU display a fall off in emigration to established EU countries as prospects for economic and political stability become more apparent in their own countries.”