Earlier this week Czech President Vaclav Klaus paid a state visit to Turkey, and declared his support for Turkey's ambitions to join the European Union. Meanwhile, here in Prague, a one-day conference entitled "Turkey in Europe—Europe in Turkey?" was held in the Senate chambers and attended by several experts on Turkish affairs and some Czech politicians.
Turkey's potential membership in the European Union has been a subject of debate for decades. Now that the Czech Republic has joined the EU, Czech politicians are also actively engaged in discussing the possible membership of other aspiring states. Jan Zahradil, a Czech member of the European Parliament who also sits on the EU-Turkey Joint Parliamentary Committee, shares his views on whether Turkish membership in the EU would be good for the Union, and good for the Czech Republic:
"I think that enlargement as a general phenomenon is a good thing for the European Union. Enlargement should not stop, nor should it be stopped by some participants, and the Czech Republic as a new member state has declared several times that it will not be placing obstacles in the way of those who are just now applying for membership, but rather that it will help them, and that it would definitely be in favour of such membership. So, from both points of view, I think that we should have a positive approach to prospective Turkish membership in the EU."
Critics of Turkey's accession are quick to highlight doubts about whether the country is actually European in character. Jan Zahradil, the foreign affairs spokesman of the Civic Democrats, the Czech Republic's strongest right-of-centre opposition party, argues against those who suggest that Turkey's Muslim character could threaten the EU:
"I think that it is without doubt that Turkey is a secular country, and that it is a democratic country. Of course it has at times some peculiar aspects to its democracy and secularism, however it seems to have worked to this point. I think that for those who consider the EU to be a treaty-based brotherhood of individual nations and nation-states—for those who see the EU as a way to facilitate relations amongst states—for these states prospective Turkish accession to the EU should not pose any threat."
The EU began official negotiations with Turkey on October 3rd, 2005, and the target accession date is expected to be anywhere between 10 to 20 years from now. Czech senator Josef Jarab sees Turkey's eventual EU membership as good for Europe, and his reasons are primarily strategic:
"Turkey is one of the countries that is Muslim, and it is an outreach to a very hot area: the Middle East. It has, or tries to have, good working relations with Israel, and with Palestinians. So I would say that it is a sort of safeguarding territory for the future development of international relations for Europe. Also, Turkey would be one territory through which we could bypass the importance of Russia as an access to energy that we can hardly imagine the future of Europe without."
Although Turkey could provide Europe with access to energy sources in the Caspian basin, there is also concern that Turkey's lower economic productivity could be a major drain on EU regional funding, and on the current agricultural policy. Jan Zahradil has this to say about European fears over Turkey weighing on EU finding:
"This could only indicate that the whole system should be reformed, and most of all, the CAP (the Common Agricultural Policy) could maybe be removed altogether after 2013."
Despite the complexities of EU expansion, all the Czech politicians who took part in the conference were in favour of Turkey joining the EU. There are plenty of political voices in the Czech Republic against further expansion, but, politically at least, support for Turkey is stronger here than in most Central European countries.
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