A European commissioner set off a furious row yesterday after warning that Europe’s Christian civilisation risked being overrun by Islam.
Fritz Bolkestein, the single market commissioner and a former leader of the Dutch liberals, said the European Union would “implode” in its current form if 70 million Turkish Muslims were allowed to join.
He predicted that Turkish accession would overwhelm the fragile system and finish off any lingering dreams of a fully-integrated European superstate.
In a speech at Leiden University, he compared the EU to the late Austrian-Hungarian empire, which took so many different peoples on board in such a haphazard fashion that it eventually became ungovernable.
Calling demography the “mother of politics”, he said that while America had the youth and dynamism to remain the world’s only superpower, and China was the rising economic power, Europe’s destiny was to be “Islamised”.
In comments designed to provoke fury in Ankara, he quoted the American author Bernard Lewis warning that Europe would become an extension of North Africa and the Middle East by the end of the century.
The carefully-crafted speech caused consternation in Brussels where the commission is putting the finishing touches to a report due early next month that is expected to back Turkish accession.
The commission played down Mr Bolkestein’s remarks, emphasising that he was speaking in a personal capacity.
But he was immediately disowned by allies in parliament. Andrew Duff, a Liberal MEP, said: “We are not slaves to prejudice or historical nostalgia. It is most unfortunate that a single commissioner has pre-empted the commission’s report on Turkey in this way.’
The final decision on Turkey rests with EU leaders at a Brussels summit in December. If they give the go-ahead for the start of accession talks, it sets in motion a process that becomes almost unstoppable.
Turkey would join within 10 years or so, unless blocked by referendums in EU member states.
The “Turkish Question” has mushroomed into an explosive issue in France and Germany. Public opinion in both countries has deep misgivings about further eastward expansion, fearing a flood of immigrants and a huge diversion of EU funds to the impoverished hinterland of Anatolia.
“After the accession of Turkey, the EU will not be able to continue its current agriculture and regional policies. Europe would implode,” said Mr Bolkestein.
His warning comes as Ankara’s Islamic government presses ahead with criminalising adultery.
Feminist groups in Europe and Turkey have reacted with horror, claiming that the “reactionary” law is aimed against women but the row highlights the gulf between the cultural values of urban Europe and rural Turkey.
The European enlargement commissioner, Gunther Verheugen, appears determined to go ahead with a broadly positive verdict on Oct 6, concluding that Turkey has met the basic tests of a free market economy and pluralist democracy under the rule of law.
He said Turkey had made “impressive progress” and that its accession had reached “critical mass”. The authorities have pushed through drastic reforms to the legal code and constitution during the past three years to keep Brussels happy, as well as restoring Kurdish language rights and abolishing the death penalty.
A “wise men’s report”, issued by a team of Europe’s elder statesmen this week, said it would be unjust to deny Turkey its rightful place after waiting patiently as the ex-communist states of Eastern Europe jumped the queue.
They said Turkey had shown its “European vocation” and enjoyed a “firmly-rooted” secular tradition that was quite unlike the rest of the Muslim world.
Jack Straw, the Foreign Secretary, called for an emphatic endorsement of Turkey.
“People need to think very carefully about the strategic implications of pushing Turkey away, of pushing Turkey to the east and to the south,” he said in Prague.