Saturday, December 18, 2004

Talking Turkey

At the moment that is what we are all doing but not for much longer. As my colleague has written, the preliminary hoopla is now over and we are all settling in for a long haul of at least ten, if not fifteen years. During that time all sorts of complications will arise, not just with Turkey but with the other countries that are seeking accession: Romania and Bulgaria and with the EU itself.

Strangely enough, that comment that we cannot tell what the EU will be like in ten years’ time because of its own internal problems elicited no particular disagreement in the discussion I took part in this morning on ITN. The other participants were the Head of Politics at Goldsmith College, London and the Executive Director of the Kurdish Human Rights Project. It was a very civilized discussion and we agreed on many things. What struck me was that my interlocutors, since they were not exactly opponents, seemed rather bemused. They thought that Turkey joining the EU was quite a good idea for Turkey but were well aware of the opposing arguments. But they did not see what other solutions there were.

That, really, is the problem and, I am pleased to say, I managed to raise it during the discussion. Despite the chatter about the common foreign policy, the need to make Europe’s voice heard, the special European values, the EU, in fact, has no idea what to do with other countries. The root of the problem is the nonsense of a common foreign policy when there are no common interests or, even, a common outlook on world affairs. And that goes back to Europe’s diverse and often incompatible history.

Like certain biological organisms, the EU’s existence is necessarily enlargement. Its much touted common foreign and security policy has to be proactive or cease to exist. Action without an obvious purpose is a dangerous element. Potentially, the EU’s necessity to have foreign action and to keep enlarging because it sees no alternatives, is destabilizing.

The now accepted idea that as soon as it is capable of doing so, the EU should send combat groups to sort out troublesome parts of the world in order to further the CFSP reminds one of nothing so much as the usual policy of a weak dictatorship: have a foreign adventure or two in order to take people’s minds off the problems at home.

Nowhere is this vacuum seen more clearly than in the EU’s dealings with the neighbouring countries. Back in 1998 as the negotiations with the East European countries were coming into their own Bill Jamieson (then Economic Editor of the Sunday Telegraph) and I wrote a paper in which we argued that enlargement to the east was not in anybody’s interest, least of all the post-Communist countries. Instead, we said, the EU should take this opportunity to review its own ideological attitudes and start turning the whole structure into a series of free-market agreements.

Naturally, this was not accepted and we were criticized by, among others, Sir Samuel Brittan for producing a political and economic heresy. Early next year I shall be attending the 10th Central and Eastern European Forum, organized by Euromoney plc. The starting point of the conference is rather a sad one. The East European countries, having made enormous advances and achieved great successes in the ten years before their membership of the EU, are now finding that this “may prove a handicap in certain key regards”. The malaise of the EU is now extending to take in the hitherto vibrant economies, as we predicted it would.

The conference is hoping to come up with some answers but the participants will be faced with one immovable obstacle: members of the EU can no longer think merely in terms of their own economy and what is best for them.

Why the problem became insoluble was the EU’s inability or reluctance to think in terms of anything but membership for these countries. They had to be groomed to become EU members, whether it was the right course of action or not. At no time was there a suggestion at the political level that other relationships are possible with neighbouring states.

Having missed the possibility of reassessment with the ten new members, the EU is faced with an impasse. If it offers less than potential membership to other countries this is seen as a slap in the face. If it cannot take the countries in and cannot even think of doing so in the near future, it has no policies. This explains the floundering over Ukraine. The Neighbourhood Agreements give nothing and are there as a palliative to immediate neighbours in the east and not so immediate ones in North Africa.

Turkey is a large, fairly poor country with a history and culture that is very different from that of the European countries. The problems western Europe faced with the post-Communist states will be magnified. That is not to say we should just ignore Turkey or throw it the odd hand-out. It is an unusual country in that it is Muslim but relatively secular; it has been a staunch ally in the Cold War (though that was partly motivated by the knowledge that it was in the front-line); it is making strides towards democracy and a rule of human rights.

Will membership of the EU help in any of this? Probably not. Least of all will it be a help in ensuring that Turkey becomes a constitutional democracy, as the EU is not a democracy itself. It is a seriously flawed political entity and its faults are entirely those already in existence in most non-European countries: lack of accountability, legislation by diktat, an endemic institutional corruption. How has becoming part of it benefited the East European countries? How will it benefit the Balkan states or Turkey?

Everybody understands that taking Turkey in is problematic on many levels; but nobody can think of what else to do. The EU has no other alternatives. It has no particular reasons to stop after Turkey, though the chances are the whole project will collapse, should that membership ever come about. Whatever reason it will advance will be seen as an excuse. At the same time, this constant growth, accompanied by ever greater centralization will, inevitably, destabilize the whole area.

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