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Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

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Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. He overseas the fund's policy programs. He was previously the Washington bureau chief of the German newsweekly, Die Zeit. Close.

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff

Germany

Thomas Kleine-Brockhoff is a Senior Director at the German Marshall Fund of the United States, a transatlantic public policy and grant-making foundation. more »

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Europe is Not a "Christian Club"

Germany/USA - Now the Turkish media call him "Papaturka". The Pope surprised the world when he arrived in Turkey without a crucifix around his neck. He was seen waving a Turkish flag and then, most importantly, he endorsed Turkish membership in the European Union.

The Pope did something courageous. Two camps oppose EU membership for Turkey, the culturalists and the institutionalists. The culturalists believe that Europe is an association of free peoples bound together by tradition and identity. Europe has borders to protect this and Christendom helps define those borders. In other words: Muslims don't belong in Europe. To the culturalists, the Siege of Vienna never ended. 1683 equals 2006. And EU accession is the newest incarnation of the long-standing Turkish desire to conquer Europe. The institutionalists believe Turkey can't join because the EU isn't ready for it.

We are witnessing the battle of the German titans: Joseph Ratzinger v. Helmut Kohl. While still in office, the Chancellor had brought some honesty to the debate about Turkey's accession to the European Union when he famously declared Europe to be a "Christian Club". Kohl, the uber-culturalist, said what many people in Europe think, but don't dare to utter.

The culturalist's case, of course, has never been convincing. Indeed, Europe is an association of free peoples, with a common identity shaped by the principles of liberal democracy. As an EU member, Turkey would help Europe fulfill its own promise. Europe would continue to be democratic, multi-religious, and multi-ethnic.

As it is, European Muslims already outnumber the Dutch. And not even European culturalists will doubt that predominantly Muslim Albania and Bosnia might one day be members of the EU. They clearly reside inside Europe's "borders". Europe's history and identity has included Islam for hundreds of years.

The Pope's remarks have the power to shift power in the debate away from the culturalists. It will be much harder for the proponents of the "Christian Club" to make their case without God's Deputy on earth supporting them. The more the Pope spells out the details of his own argument (which he hasn't done so far), the more he will do to bring skeptical Christian traditionalists along. In the process, he might even alter the perception of Catholicism in the Muslim world. His tolerance opens up a world of possibilities.

But while Europe's culturalists have always had a weak case, Europe's institutionalists continue to make a strong case against Turkey's accession to the EU. The Pope's remarks do nothing to address their concerns. (It would have been astonishing had the Pope injected himself into this type of policy debate anyway.) The institutionalists argue that Turkey might be ready for the EU, but the EU is not ready for Turkey. With 70 million Turks, the EU would collapse under a severe case of system overload if Turkey joined.

Institutionalists argue that the lessons of Greek, Portuguese, and Irish accession do not apply today. With its system of redistribution of wealth via structural funds and market access, the EU helped these countries to modernize rapidly in the past. But the countries were small and had small economies. Meanwhile, the European Community at the time enjoyed enormous growth rates. Taking on the extra load of integrating the small new members didn't pose a problem. The governing mechanisms of the Community worked. None of that is true today. The EU had promised to reform its governing structure before it would accept new members from Central and Eastern Europe. It hasn't happened.

The EU is a behemoth of 25 countries that are hardly able to take more than baby steps together. Its decision making process is archaic; its farm policy is immensely costly and unprincipled; its structural funds promise more intra-European solidarity than constituents are willing to deliver when that means French EU-contributions will help to send French jobs to Slovakia. In the end, the electorate defines the limits of European expansionism -- as witnessed in France and The Netherlands. For years the integration of new members has been seen as a tool of foreign policy. The EU would help to export stability. But the institutionalists ask: What if there is no stability to export in the midst of a constitutional, demographic, and economic crisis? They argue that Europe will import instability instead of exporting stability. The consequences might be at least as grave as those created by a rejection of Turkey or a postponement of membership.

Culturalists and institutionalists concur that Turkey should not become an EU member shortly. That agreement does not amount to much. The culturalists claim that Turkey can never become a member while the institutionalists are willing to change their mind some day when the EU has gotten its act together. By weakening the culturalist's case, the Pope is refocusing the argument. The spiritual leader is helping to rationalize this big continental debate.

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