The country of Turkey is typically considered to straddle both Europe and Asia. Turkey occupies all of the Anatolian Peninsula (also known as Asia Minor) and a small part of southeastern Europe. In October 2005 negotiations began between Turkey (population 70 million) and the European Union (EU) for Turkey to be considered as a possible member of the EU in the future.
While most of Turkey lies geographically in Asia (the peninsula is Asian), far western Turkey lies in Europe. Turkey's largest city of Istanbul (known as Constantinople until 1930), with a population of over 9 million is located on both the east and west sides of the Bosporus strait so it straddles both what are traditionally considered Europe and Asia. However, Turkey's capital city of Ankara is fully outside of Europe and on the Asian continent.
While the European Union is working with Turkey to help it move toward being able to become a member of the European Union, there are some who are concerned about Turkey's potential membership. Those opposed to Turkish membership in the EU point to several issues.
First, they state that Turkey's culture and values are different from those of the European Union as a whole. They point out that Turkey's 99.8% Muslim population is too different from Christian-based Europe. However, the EU makes the case that the EU is not a religion-based organization, Turkey is a secular (a non-religion-based government) state, and that 12 million Muslims currently live throughout the European Union. Nonetheless, the EU acknowledges that Turkey needs to "Substantially improve respect for the rights of non-Muslim religious communities to meet European standards."
Secondly, naysayers point out that since Turkey is mostly not in Europe (neither population-wise nor geographically), it should not become part of the European Union. The EU responds that, "The EU is based more on values and political will than on rivers and mountains," and acknowledges that, "Geographers and historians have never agreed on the physical or natural borders of Europe." Too true!
A third reason Turkey might have problems is its non-recognition of Cyprus, a full-fledged member of the European Union. Turkey will have to acknowledge Cyprus to be considered a contender for membership.
Additionally, many are concerned about the rights of Kurds in Turkey. The Kurdish people have limited human rights and there are accounts of genocidal activities that need to stop for Turkey to be considered for European Union membership.
Finally, some are concerned that Turkey's large population would alter the balance of power in the European Union. After all, Germany's population (the largest country in the EU) is only at 82 million and declining. Turkey would be the second largest country (and perhaps eventually the largest with its much higher growth rate) in the EU and would have considerable influence in the European Union. This influence would be especially profound in the population-based European Parliament.
The low per-capita income of the Turkish population is also of concern since the economy of Turkey as a new EU member might have a negative effect on the EU as a whole.
Turkey is receiving considerable assistance from its European neighbors as well as from the EU. The EU has allocated billions and is expected to allocate billions of euros in funding for projects to help invest in a stronger Turkey that may one day become a member of the European Union.
I was particularly moved by this EU statement on why Turkey should be part of the European Union of the future, "Europe needs a stable, democratic and more prosperous Turkey which adopts our values, our rule of law, and our common policies. The accession perspective has already driven forward bold and significant reforms. If the rule of law and human rights are guaranteed throughout the country, Turkey can join the EU and thus become an even stronger bridge between civilizations as it is already today." That sounds like worthwhile goal to me.