The new issue of the Atlantic Monthly contains an excellent article by Robert D. Kaplan, which neatly summarises the American perspective on Turkish acsession to the European Union. For the United States, Turkey under Recep Tayyip Erdogan is the face of a stable, Islamic state and therefore an entity that would be desirable bring into the Western fold, argues Kaplan:

This Decemeber, a hesitant European Union will decide whether to open negotiations for Turkey to join. Its hesitancy has legitimate and illegitimate reasons. The legitimate ones center on the difficulty of digesting a country of 70 million people—one that is far poorer and more populous tha many of the Central and Eastern European nations recently admitted to the EU. The illegitimate ones center on the fact that—well, Turkey is Muslim. Does Europe really want that many Muslims within its community?

The economic argument against Turkish acession is sound. This map from the Economist neatly illustrates the problem. What remains is the prickly issue of religion. Within the existing EU states, there is a debate between those who want to ensure and (sometimes militant) secularists. Integrating a Muslim coutry would require an American-style secular ecumenicalism that tolerates (or even expects) individual religious expression in public life but is indifferent to the form of that expression. This is a non-starter those who define “Europe” as a Christian civilisation and railed against the exclusion of God from the European Consistition and Rocco Buttiliogne from the European Commission. But it’s equally unpalitable to those who insist on a French-style militant secularism that would ban the hijab from public institutions.

[ADDED 8.1.2006]