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Dutch minister: ’Don’t confuse integration with assimilation’
Author:Döndü Sarıışık

Integration should not be confused with assimilation, the Netherlands’ European affairs minister said. “You can ask people to change their attitude according to social requirements, but you cannot ask them to change who they are,” Frans Timmermans said Wednesday, speaking with press at a roundtable meeting in Ankara.

Turks and Moroccans constitute substantial minorities in the Netherlands, where Islamophobia has increased and, as a result, a radical parliamentarian suggested in September extra taxes for those wearing a headscarf. Geert Wilders, the leader of the far-right Freedom Party, proposed that any Muslim woman who wants to wear a headscarf, which he described as a “head rag,” would have to apply for a license and pay 1,000 euros.

“After Sept. 11, all of a sudden, Turks, Moroccans and Somalis all became Muslims. Islam is perceived as a threat to their liberty,” Timmermans said.

Timmermans held talks with Foreign Minister Ahmet Davuto?lu, State Minister and Chief Negotiator for EU Affairs Egemen Ba???, Finance Minister Ali Babacan, Culture and Tourism Minister Ertu?rul Günay, members of the Turkish-Dutch Inter-Parliamentary Friendship Group and a number of businessmen during his three-day visit to Turkey.

The European Union integration process, Turkey’s EU bid, envisaged constitutional changes, judicial reforms in Turkey, regional developments, the G-20 and the global economic downturn were all on the agenda. He also discussed what economic and cultural events could happen in 2012 to mark the 400th anniversary of relations between the Netherlands and Turkey.

Timmermans, praising Turkey’s efforts to align with EU standards, said: “My government is committed to this process [Turkey-EU accession] and so feels responsibility.”

Turkey’s accession would be a significant reconciliation similar to the one between France and Germany, and it would prove European diversity, which respects all religions and races, the Dutch minister said.

“This accession will have a huge affect on both development of the EU and the world,” he said, noting Turkey’s bridging role between the East and the West.

The deadlock in Cyprus may freeze the Turkey-EU accession process, he agreed, noting the lack of a settlement “is not only Turkey’s problem but it is a European issue.”

Mentioning there is no consensus between the government and the opposition over constitutional changes, Timmermans said: “It is clear there are difficulties, but at the same time, the commitment is very strong and I’ve found this very encouraging.”

The minister said Turkey has been tremendously transformed in minority rights over the last 12 years but added: “Still a lot remains to be done. There is anxiety and distrust in all sides.”