TURKISH PRESIDENT, Ahmet Necdet Sezer, was in Lisbon last week to hold talks with Portuguese counterpart, Jorge Sampaio, and Prime Minister José Sócrates.
It formed part of a three-day whistle-stop tour of European capitals, where Turkey wishes to promote and reinforce its bid to join the European Union in the next wave of entries. But the question is: would Turkey’s entry in the EU be good for Portugal and other EU countries?
Certainly, there are very strategic reasons for getting Turkey on board in this uncertain time of Islamic fundamentalism, terrorism and continuing problems in the Middle East, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Egypt and, of course, Iraq.
Turkey, as the most powerful and secular of all the Muslim states, has long been a natural friend of strategic air and naval importance for NATO. The country also acts as an important buffer zone between Europe and some of the less stable states of Iraq and Iran, and can act as an important diplomatic broker and intermediate between the traditional West and the traditional East.
But there are some sticky problems that complicate the EU ointment, like the issue of Cyprus, the problem of human rights, its militaristic and, at times, less than democratic government, as well as widespread corruption at all levels and financial budgetary inconsistency.
The EU has struck a deal over a demand that Turkey recognises Cyprus before it begins talks on membership, which Turkey has promised to do by October’s negotiations.
Then again, others are concerned that Turkey will weigh heavily on EU financial resources as it is a large country with a low standard of living, low wages and that it would cost millions in investment to bring it up to other EU country levels.
There are also concerns about Turkey’s human rights record and, despite some reform, the country still has a long way to go.
The other question is that four fifths of Turkey aren’t even in continental Europe, but in Asia, which imposes the question: if we allow Turkey to join, then why not allow Israel? After all, we Europeans, like the Americans, have a far deeper relationship over the creation and support of Israel.
And what would Portugal get out of it? Would cheaper textile imports flood the market and further erode Portugal’s suffering textile industry? Would the country be flooded with waves of Turks in search of work and better wages? Would Turkey’s exotic sun-kissed holiday beaches prove a more attractive bargain for both Portuguese and foreign tourists?
Lisbon Câmara President, Pedro Santana Lopes, talked about the importance of accepting Turkey into the European fold, while adding that Portugal “backed Turkey’s recognised efforts at reforming its institutions in a democratic way”. He also stressed that both Lisbon and Istanbul (and Ankara) were gateways onto the Mediterranean.
Turkish cities could also prove valuable business springboards into Asia for Portuguese companies, while joint ventures in the area of civil construction and engineering projects could benefit from closer ties. Chris Graeme