The Turkish Prime Minister dismissed suggestions Thursday that there is a risk of a clash of religions if the predominantly Muslim nation were admitted to the European Union. After talks in Brussels on Turkey’s EU bid, Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan admitted that Turkey is different in terms of religion, but that Europe is not a “Christian club” and could integrate well different faiths and cultlures.
"Yes we have a different religion," Erdogan said, noting that 95 percent of Turks are Muslim. "Almost all of the EU states are Christian. From that perspective it is correct that we are different."
"But multiculturalism ... is the understanding which underpins the EU. The EU is not a religious club. What the EU is trying to do ... is to harmonize and to bring together and integrate different cultures and religions," he added.
Turkey, a member of NATO, has waited 40 years to become a part of Europe. According to Agence France-Presse (AFP), critics of Turkey’s EU application say that the EU, which this year staged its largest expansion, taking it from 15 member states to 25, will simply be overwhelmed by the culture differences if Ankara wins EU membership.
After talks at the European Parliament, Erdogan noted that the EU started as the European Coal and Steel Community in the 1950s, turned into the European Economic Community and has now evolved into a still-expanding European Union.
"In the future it will be the meeting point of cultures and civilizations," he said, according to AFP. "To create such a political union will bring humanity to peace and to solidarity.
"Otherwise you see what is going on throughout the world. Blood and tears. This cannot be our future. We are fed up with that," he added.
European Parliament chief Josep Borrell agreed with Erdogan.
"The EU is not a Christian club and should never be considered such. Whatever the future of relations between Turkey and the EU there’s no possibility of any kind of religious clash."
Turkey played a significant part of the early Christian Church as the center of much of the Apostle Paul's work. With the establishment of the Ottoman Empire, however, it became the guardian of Islam for centuries. In the twentieth century, the number of Christians in Turkey has dramatically decreased from twenty-two percent in 1900 to today, where 99.8 percent of the people are Muslim and most people have never heard the Gospel of Christ.
Despite the government reforms to facilitate joining the European Union, agencies such as the Voice of the Martyrs say there is no indication of increasing religious freedom. While the Turkish constitution includes freedom of religion, worship services are only permitted in "buildings created for this purpose," and officials have restricted the building of buildings for minority religions.
On May 1, 2004, the European Union enlarged to twenty-five member countries, a momentous achievement that can be compared with the historic foundation of the European Union and its institutions in the 1950s, not only in dimension—it was the first time that ten nations joined the EU simultaneously—but also in its political impact. The enlargement signaled Europe’s unification after fifty years of division
Those that joined were Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia, and Slovenia.
By the end of 2004, the European Council will decide whether Turkey is ready to begin accession negotiations.