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Deputy PM: Turkey 'inspiration' for Islam and democracy

By Oliver Joy, CNN
April 12, 2013 -- Updated 1246 GMT (2046 HKT)
  • Turkish Deputy PM Ali Bababcan said that Turkey is becoming a "source of inspiration" for many countries
  • He says Turkey shows how Islam and democracy can go hand-in-hand
  • Bababcan's comments come as Turkey continues to push for European Union membership
  • The ambition is questioned by some who point to the country's already strong economy

(CNN) -- Turkey is a "source of inspiration" to show how Islam and democracy can go hand-in-hand, the country's deputy prime minister has told CNN.

In an interview with Richard Quest, Ali Bababcan -- deputy to Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan -- said the country had been able to demonstrate how "Islam and democracy can function together."

He continued, "a country which has a population 99% as their faith in Islam can also be a country which are subscribing to the universal values of the EU."

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Bababcan's comments come as Turkey continues to push for European Union membership, an ambition questioned by some who point to the country's already strong economy and powerful geographical position.

Turkey made its application to join the EU in 1987 and has had a customs and trade union with the 27-nation bloc since 1996.

While negotiations for the country's full EU membership began in October 2005, progress has been frustratingly slow as countries including Germany and France question Turkey's suitability for EU status.

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Babacan said Turkey -- a country flanked by Europe and Middle East hotspots such as Syria and Iraq -- is subscribing to the western-style democracy.

He said the EU acts as a "very important external anchor" on issues such as democracy and human rights.

Turkey's economic performance, however, stands in stark contrast to many countries within Europe. The International Monetary Fund expects Turkey to grow 3.5% this year, while many European countries suffer prolonged recessions.

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Turkey -- a country of 74 million people -- is one of Europe's fastest growing economies and is attracting investment from industries including automotive, power, construction and defense.

This has prompted some to question Turkey's drive to be part of the EU, instead pointing to its potential as a bridge between the East and West.

Philipp Reuter, director for Turkey at business consultancy Frost & Sullivan, told CNN that it is not necessary for Turkey to become a fully-fledged member of the union.

He said Turkey has more to gain economically by aligning itself with a region historically known as "Levant," and to which he has added North Africa. The region includes countries such as Iraq in the Middle East to Algeria in North Africa.

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Global corporations are now basing their regional offices in Turkey, Reuter said. Microsoft, CocaCola, Huawei and BP all have bases in the country, from which they oversee operations in the Middle East and Central Asia.

But Babacan, is his interview with Quest, said the government is focused on European membership. "We believe the EU should be more of a global entity and Turkey will contribute its position as a real global actor, not a European project, but more of a global project," he said.

Babacan points to Turkey's services industry and banking sector as an example for Europe and the eurozone's embattled single currency.

He added: "Our banking system is doing very well... we have put strict regulation, very strict supervision mechanisms for our banks and every single bank has been restructured, recapitalized."

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