Needing Turkey

Article published on Feb. 11, 2003
community published
Article published on Feb. 11, 2003

This article has not been vetted by an editor at Paris HQ

Jean-Michel Belorgey, Member of the Council of Europe, provides us with an in-depth analysis prior to publication of his new work. As far as Turkeys accession to the EU is concerned it is simply not true that it is urgent to wait. Europe must re-evaluate the negative ideas it has about Turkey and consider that Turkey is without doubt the applicant country with the most to offer Europeans.

As far as Turkeys accession to the EU is concerned it is simply not true that it is urgent to wait. Europe could come to regret its prevaricating much more than Turkey. The collapse of the Soviet bloc, (the desire to prevent Soviet influence on Turkeys economy and politics was without doubt a strong contributory factor, along with the help of American influence, to the warm welcome that the Turkish association request received in 1959), does not constitute a plausible argument against Turkey joining the EU. Nor does the acceleration of Greeces integration into Europe, (even though Greece was hardly as qualified in the late 1960s either in economic or political terms as Turkey was or currently is - it is a shame that Greece periodically and unrelentingly ostracises Turkey as in 1985, 1988, 1994, and today). The development of Turkish institutions and political life are not major obstacles either and nor is an economy which continues to manifest weaknesses, some serious, but also manifests spectacular advances. As well as this Turkey would bring two major assets to the EU. Firstly its borders with Asia, and in particular former Soviet, Turkish speaking, Central Asia, and the Iranian and Arab Middle East. Unlike Russia, commercially very present in the region, the EU does not have such borders and so cannot conduct trans-Mediterranian relations with the Maghreb. Secondly, Turkey has direct experience of dealing with the Maghreb as it shares a common spiritual and cultural heritage and is not restricted by the ambiguities of a colonial past or of practising a minority religion Islam (as is the case in former Yugoslavian countries). Islam must stop inspiring Western European fear and fantasy; Turkey could help to achieve this.

European Overcautiousness

Where, in truth, does this kind of allergy to Turkish membership, which remains rife among certain ruling European circles, stem from? Evidently not from inadequacies in Turkish political democracy no matter how pertinent or explicit the arguments for this case. Neither does it stem from the undeniable instability of the countrys economy, nor the consequent shortcomings that result from this in terms of social policy. Unfortunately the conclusion that presents itself is that this allergy stems on the one hand from the long-standing Turkish threat to the southward progress of Christian Europe and from violence that so marked the falling of the imperial regime and the dawning of the republic. On the other hand is fear of the sheer demographic weight and dynamism of the Turks i.e. migration waves carried by this dynamism and by inequalities in living standards between Turkey and the rest of Europe. These migrants could soon make the most of the free movement of people that constitutes, along with free movement of goods, one of the fundamental dimensions of European integration. Moreover however, and this is less often thought of even though it has a part to play, it must be considered how the arrival of a country of 70 million inhabitants will affect European political equilibrium and constant institutions. Has Western Europe completely forgotten that Turkey has, since the 16th century and up until the dawn of the 20th century, played a decisive role on several occasions in European equilibrium and that the ironic turn of phrase used to describe this was the sick man, but of Europe. This, well before Ataturk and since the Tanzimat, fully justified reforming choices (at least as much as those made by any other European government). Has the weight of Turkish neutrality during WWII been forgotten?

A Turkish Political Model?

If Turkish democracy is not perfect (but what about Greece and its colonels?) there are lessons to be learnt from it in several domains. Firstly the matter of secularity. The Turkish term for secularity is laïcité as the French. Although unlike French secularism and not without its problems Turkeys is the only secular construction which permits a traditionally Muslim country to provide a lasting framework for the practise of this religion. Islam has not been granted adequate status in any other European country, perhaps as it has always been seen as a non-native religion. Few societies can claim such vitality in terms of associations as Turkeys, both on national territory and within the Diaspora. As for weaknesses which continue to tarnish Turkish institutions and political life, we must begin by agreeing that the West has not, under certain circumstances such as the war in Afghanistan and the Gulf war, been averse to accommodating these weaknesses whilst later being prepared to use these same weaknesses in order to feed disdain. Moreover, why is it that the political stowage argument used to welcome other countries into the EU is not valid for Turkey? This, even considering that Turkey makes a contribution to problems as delicate as the Kurd, or Cypress issues, and even to the contentious and constantly changing dispute between Greeks and Turks over the territorial waters of the Aegean Sea.

Re-evaluating the Turkish Economy in the Light of Other European Countries

If the Turkish economy remains unstable, sapped by the imbalance of interior accounts and inflation, then the EUs or some of its Member States roles in this should not be hidden. The embargo on Iraq sterilised Iraqi-Mediterranean oil pipelines without Russian-Anatolian-Mediterranean pipelines emerging in replacement (the Bosphorus was closed to Russian oil companies, which may be ecologically necessary but is politically difficult). It should likewise be taken into account that from the 1970s efforts have been made to modernise and open up an economy which was previously introverted and marked by state intervention. Efforts have been made to recreate balance between western areas, traditionally developed areas and the Anatolian west as well as efforts to develop infrastructures. These infrastructures are, depending on the case, put up in response to non-economic preoccupations. They include airports, motorways, inner-city transport networks, urban water conveyance and draining networks and housing stock of a quality which Spain, Southern Italy, Greece, several de-industrialised areas in Northern Europe and most Eastern countries being sounded out for accession would boast about. It is no small advantage either that Turkey has not, despite industrial development, sacrificed agriculture and has thus remained self-sufficient in terms of food. Of course concern about such an informal economy which poses great problems to Turkish finance and is not easily compatible with community economic regulation is justified, but what about Southern Italy or Poland?

Turkish social policy falls short in terms of fighting inequality, developing collective negotiations between social partners and letting conflicts and strike action begin freely, also in terms of health and social protection in general and particularly the protection of children, especially working children, as well as the aged and the disabled. Unfortunately the same may be said about several Member States. This is also the case for GDP shared between capital revenues and work revenues, and for the legal regimes governing collective negotiations and the right to strike, and this is the case in countries which were among the first to join the EU.

Turkeys Demographic Vitality an asset to Europe

It is hardly surprising that Turkeys demography worries countries that are in a blind panic over possible inundation from migration waves. The population of Turkey has doubled in 30 years. Over this period rural exodus has also risen sharply and the proportion of the urban population in relation to the total population has likewise doubled. In a quarter of a century the population of some agglomerations has increased tenfold or even twentyfold. Urban development strategy has not always been strong enough to meet the challenges that confronted it, although often it has been, Turkey has few shantytowns and suffers from little youth crime. It only remains to point out that population decrease in some EU Member States, although this point is rarely agreed upon, has made immigrants necessary, and those old countries where the population is running low anyway that are set for EU accession cannot provide the immigrants needed. Turkey, overflowing with vitality, can. This vitality is open to the world. Several important Turkish writers, mostly women, write in German and English. A large majority of the workforce that Turkey has to offer is qualified, and enterprising whether qualified or not there are over

50 000 small Turkish businesses in Europe. These qualifications and this enterprising spirit would not cost contributing European countries much in terms of education and business grants. Instead these countries could be called upon to contribute to transition costs, i.e. to help the Turkish economy become as stable as those of other EU countries. This would inevitably be needed for Turkish accession not to be disastrous. It is a shame on this subject, and the subject of the free movement of workers, that the undertakings concerning accession agreed upon by the EU since before the 1980 military coup détat, have not been respected, and that those that were included in the conclusion of the EU customs agreement in 1995 are not sufficient to meet Turkeys needs.

Europe Must Make Concessions

Incidentally, perhaps Turkey would be justified in asking the EU to make an effort worthy of the solidarity of its name and reform some of their current economic strategies. The EU would be wrong not to all accessions are negotiable, above all when the new partner is presented with new perspectives. This is what many Turks in positions of power are now realising having proved they can be excessively humble and having recently taken several steps for good measure such as abolishing the death penalty. Some of these Turks will certainly begin to wonder if there is any point in taking any further steps if the Commission and the Council persist in being overcautious about the accession timetable or conditions. Indeed, Turkeys destiny does not have to lie within Europe, but that would not be a good thing for Europe. Turkeys more or less convincing regional solidarity that contributed to promoting exchanges between the countries of Central Asia and the Middle East is far from being contradictory to a future in Europe, it is complementary to this and promising for a Europe which should be welcoming it. The figures for Turkeys overseas business communicate this message clearly. So, we should turn our backs on Lepante, not to make Turkey into a sort of forward bastion for the West at war (as the US have unfortunately made clear whilst pretending to force Europes hand, to succeed in this or turn us against them?), but into a catalyst for re-examining European solidarity and a link in a renewed dialogue with the Middle East.