I have always held the view that Turkey’s place is in the European Union but that this presents the EU with a formidable integration challenge because of its size, level of economic development and culture for which both must prepare well.

All the states that have joined the EU since 2004 have had to satisfy the Copenhagen Criteria before they were allowed in, although for some of them these were considerably relaxed. This certainly cannot be said of Turkey.

Given its size and the possible seismic effects of its membership on the EU in the event of a premature accession, particularly since the Union has hardly digested the previous enlargement, a prudent approach is certainly positive for both sides.

Admittedly, there are many outstanding issues that still bother many people, such as Turkey’s treatment of the Kurds and minorities. However, improvements have been made which would have been unimaginable had Turkey not been preparing itself for membership.

There is the outstanding Cyprus issue but then the international community is partly to blame for the debacle after it tried to trip the Cypriots with a useless Constitution similar to the dysfunctional one of 1960, under the guise of the so-called Annan Plan.

Turkey’s treatment of Cyprus is a litmus test of its treatment of small states with which it will have to get along when it joins the EU.

My optimism in the goodness of man makes me confident that, with goodwill, sufficient time and some daring political leader-ship on all sides, these prob-lems can be overcome to everyone’s satisfaction. However, I would like to stress the importance of treating Turkey fairly.

I believe that, with the multiple identities that characterise Europe today, the Muslim culture is already part of the European reality as it is in the rest of the North Atlantic area, though we need to work harder towards addressing the challenges that it poses.

It is customary in Europe to view Islam as a monolithic, single culture, which it definitely is not. Likewise, Turkish soc-iety also has its diversities. Extremists exist everywhere and we in the EU should perhaps pay more attention to the more dangerous and xenopho-bic movements nurturing in our own societies and which, in my view, can present worse dangers to our democracies than a secular, Muslim society or the mainstream more moderate Islam whose existence we of-ten overlook.

Turkey has a secular society, a strong economy that is growing at lightning speed and a young population with ever expanding opportunities at home – and comparatively less in the EU. Certain statements about Turkish migration should, in my opinion, be re-examined in the light of facts and the rest of Europe’s aging population.

Turkey has always been an integral part of Europe and several leading thinkers have throughout the centuries underlined that “Christian” Europe could better achieve lasting or “perpetual” peace by incorporating “Muslim” Turkey.

My personal assessment is that an EU based on the respect of human dignity, the implementation of human rights and the rule of law, democracy and pluralism, tolerance and mutual respect but which cannot also integrate Turkey within its ranks because of “religion” or “cultural differences” is a failure.

The EU stands out as a shining example of a working peace system that can inspire other regions of the world torn by endless wars and hardships to overcome their problems by following its example.

The eventual admission of Turkey in the EU will certainly transmit a strong signal again of the usefulness of demolish-ing walls rather than erecting new ones.

It will send a powerful message to the emerging Arab democracies that Islam and democracy are compatible.

Prof. Pace teaches European Studies at the University of Malta

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