The future of the European Union, and therefore Europe, was discussed in Strasbourg last Wednesday. EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker made his final speech as the chairman of the commission, initiating the debate that will continue in the coming months. The topic of the speech was "The status and future of the EU."
As a candidate to become a long-deserved member of the EU, yet prevented from entering the union for various reasons, the questions of "what the EU's current status is, where the EU is going, and what the future of the EU will be," are of concern to us - Turkey.
Some of our friends in Turkey define the EU as a roof "with no future." I think that is not the right observation and in fact an emotional point of view. Our problems with the EU and our justified criticism of the EU should not cause us to make an inaccurate analysis about the EU.
It is true that the EU has been going through many crises. Economic problems are causing a hard time for many EU member states. The example of Greece is as plain as day. The fact that many other EU member states, especially Greece, are struggling with economic problems should not prevent us from seeing the whole picture.
Despite these economic burdens, the EU keeps on its way by lolling against strong member economies and trying to make sure that the Maastricht Criteria, indispensable for the economy, do not stay on paper and that they are implemented.
Problems with the U.S. have enabled the EU to focus on issues such as "standing on its own two feet" and better protecting its economic interests against the United States. As Trump and the U.S. have issued sanctions for EU member states, these countries are also learning to take measures "despite the U.S." from now on, and they will not allow trade relations to be "sabotaged" by the U.S. The Iranian example is obvious. The U.S. boycott has not found any support. The U.S.' unfair attitude toward Turkey is also seeing reaction from the EU. The economic or political interests of the U.S. are now clearly contradictory to the interests of the EU.
The EU "has a huge problem of asylum seekers" because of the wrong policies of the U.S. in Iraq, Syria or Libya. Following the U.S. and being part of its bad policies is just bringing new problems to the EU, which is now aware of this fact.
However, the EU has paid a high price for these wrong policies. A heavy toll is being paid. EU democracy is passing a big test. In many EU member states, we no longer talk about the electoral success of far-right or neo-Nazi parties or groups. Because they are successful in every election. Now we are concerned with the fact that these parties are government partners in EU member countries. In some EU member states, the members of far-right parties serve as ministers of the Interior, Foreign Affairs or Justice. In Germany alone, the number of members of the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) has doubled. Some 92 MPs of the German federal Parliament (Bundestag) are members of the AfD. Of the 1,821 provincial deputies in 16 German states, 157 are AfD members. And these numbers are constantly increasing.
The inevitable rise of far-rightists has turned into a test for the "Copenhagen Criteria," which the EU highly valued. Concerns about asylum seekers' lives and property safety are not strong in some EU member states. Unfortunately, some EU citizens (not that few in numbers) have to be retold and retaught that human rights also matter for asylum seekers.
It is true that the EU has had a difficult period in many areas due to the aforementioned problems. Britain's exit from the EU, of course, was not a positive development for the EU. But it should not be forgotten that the EU was not realized only as an economic project but also as a peace project after Hitler and Mussolini and their kind drowned Europe in darkness and blood, and there is still no alternative for Europe. Even though the Copenhagen Criteria have been unfortunately forgotten in many EU member states today, they are very valuable criteria for Turkey, which protects these criteria not for the EU but for Turkish citizens that deserve them. For this reason, the EU membership strategy has not changed.
Together we must now discuss the future of the EU and look for solutions to its problems. The biggest problem in the EU appears to be the far-right threat to democracy. The plans of not only the "enemies" of the EU, but the far-right parties, who are at odds with "the values of humanity," to seize and destroy the EU, must be ruined. As Muslim and Christian democrats we have to stand up against the far-right. And by creating policies together, we must prevent the far-right from deceiving the electorate with populist lies.
In this respect, the European Parliament (EP) elections to be held in May 2019 are very important. Our common concern with the deputies I talked to in the European Parliament is the danger that far-right wingers may be able to reach an unacceptable number in the EP. In order to avoid this, it is useful for the centrist parties to identify their candidates as soon as possible and explain the meaning and virtues of EU values to the electorate.
The Christian Democrats' EU-wide party, the European People's Party (EPP), and similarly the Social Democrats, have yet to find their candidates. In Germany, the top person for the Social Democratic Party (SPD) list is being sought but cannot be found. In contrast, far-right parties constitute alliances across the EU. For this reason, time should not be wasted.
There is not much time left for May 2019, and we must come on strong to keep the EU as a union of those who appreciate democracy and want to help protect its own values. European Muslim voters are prepared to choose democratic candidates.