From everyday rituals such as coffee-drinking to the very name of "Europa" which comes after a Phoenician princess that crossed to Europe from Anatolia, Turkey has been an integral part of European history, culture and geography. Today, the need for further integration, as in full-membership, is just as crucial and urgent, both for Turkey and the European Union.
If I were to choose a single piece of evidence of Turkey's "Europeanness," it would be the city of Istanbul. Istanbul tourism is booming, and the City of Seven Hills and a Thousand Names now has two additional titles: 2010 European Capital of Culture and 2012 European Capital of Sports. Indeed, it is impossible to think that the European Union would be complete without Istanbul and Turkey.
Looking at the neighborhood of the OrtakÃ¶y Office of the Secretariat General for European Union Affairs, I cannot help but think that there is no better demonstration of the European Union's motto "United in Diversity." Where else would you possibly find a mosque, a synagogue and a church so close to each other? Strolling through Istanbul, this "unity in diversity" is repeated over and over: with different cultural heritages, different paths of life, different beliefs living together, all contributing to the hectic, vibrant life of this cosmopolis.
The energy around the city reflects the dynamism of the country. Turkey is no meek candidate waiting for the European Union to bail out its economy or create employment. It is today the robust man of Europe, both in terms of its economy and its mature democratic institutions.
Turkey, which has started membership negotiations with the European Union, has made major progress in the last decade. From eradication of worst forms of child labor to constitutional amendments that further enhance individual rights and liberties; from major steps for a cleaner environment to greater food safety; Turkey has inched closer to the European Union standards every day, despite political barriers put forward by some circles in the European Union member states.
The 6th largest economy in Europe, Turkey has maintained an annual growth rate of 8.9% that was beyond the expectations of the European Commission. Its dynamic labor force and its innovative private sector is far from being a burden to the European Union. On the contrary, it will provide the much-needed momentum to the stagnating European Union.
Turkey contains the word "key." Located in a strategic and significant geography, Turkey has an indispensible role for resolving regional and global disputes. Today, more than ever, Turkey pursues an active policy of trouble-shooting, mediating and in helping diminish human suffering around the world. This is one of the focal points of our multi-dimensional, pro-active foreign policy that aims to spread European values and democratic rights around the globe.This includes areas such as the Middle East and North Africa, which claim the attention of the whole world. Turkey's key role would strengthen the bridges between the EU and the Middle Eastern countries.
Europe's current external and internal threats with regards to terrorism and immigration may be better resolved by Turkey's active defense and security role. As far as energy security is concerned, Europe's natural gas needs are more crucial than ever. Since Turkey is an energy corridor between Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East, it can strengthen the EU's energy security significantly. Turkey is working very hard with its European partners on the Nabucco Project in order to supply secure and reliable energy to Europe.
In summary, Turkey's membership would support the EU's enlargement policy by bringing peace with history, strengthening European Common Foreign and Security Policy and harmonizing various civilizations.
Despite the mutual benefits of Turkey's membership to the EU, political obstacles have been slowing down Turkey's EU membership process. If political obstacles are lifted, Turkey is ready to open 16 more chapters in addition to the 13 chapters which are already opened, and to close 12 more. All in all, on almost every possible account, the EU needs Turkey as much as, or even more than Turkey needs the EU, and both will be better off by Turkish accession.
Considering the current position of Turkey regionally and internationally, it is time for the Phoenician princess to unite Anatolia and Europe.