With Claude Moraes MEP joining as a regular contributor, he looks at the issue of Turkey and the EU.
In the 20th century, the European Union was founded for peace. In the 21st, Europe’s role has changed. Now, Europe competes in a globalised economy, promoting the values of 27 democracies. In this context, can we see Turkey joining the EU?
Painting Turkey a dark European blue on new maps could be a masterstroke, boosting the idea of an expansive and confident Europe in the world. Turkey would also offer Europeans an injection of youthful economics. If Turkey joined the EU, the country would be the sixth largest economy in Europe and the fastest growing with GDP growing 9% in 2010. Turkey’s energetic demographics, plus strategic opportunities to support new-found democracy in the Middle East and North Africa, would result in a recast world map, one of direct benefit to Europeans in the new century.
For Turkey, EU membership would also offer huge advantages. EU membership would mean a secure reinvigoration of democratic government, plus the support of an established liberal trading bloc in Europe.
So why the obstacles?
First is Europe’s attitude problem.
European governments, already anxious under the pressures of an extended recession, are in no mood to ignore how electorates are drawn to a new type of soft but shrill jingoism. German leaders are guilty of this, as are French. In both countries, a new wave of anti-immigration sentiment has become established over the last few years. Dividing lines between the far-right, and the governing centre-right, are blurring. As a result, many voters in Europe would simply say “no” to Turkish membership.
The second obstacle is Turkey’s growing embarrassment at Europe’s refusal to say “yes”. The recent French ban on wearing the burqa incensed the Turkish media, something that reflected wider Turkish suspicions of what exactly it is that Europeans think of Muslims, in general, and Turkey in particular.
In May, Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan was clear to Bloomberg Businessweek. He summarised Turkish frustration with one very good question: “We are at the doors of the European Union and it still doesn’t accept Turkey… what do we lack”?
Erdogan pointed out then that Turkey is already in Europe, with 5 million Turkish citizens living and working in the EU. Turkish voters certainly recognise this contradiction. In 2005, the Labour UK government held the EU’s rotating Presidency and negotiations on Turkish membership seemed promising to Turks. This is far from the case now.
The third obstacle is that joining Europe currently might seem less attractive than before. Turkey is keeping a close, cautious eye on the Eurozone crisis.
And forth, economics in the near Eastern nation are not necessarily invincible. Turkey saw 9% GDP growth in 2010, astonishing when compared with a 3% average in EU nations in the first quarter of 2011. But the Turkish figure was driven by a 42% expansion in consumer lending in 2010, the second highest level in the G20 after China. That’s raising concerns of over-heating in the Turkish economy.
Turkey’s growth in 2010 should trump most concerns though, reflecting the invaluable Turkish commodity of ambition.
Turkey is ready for the 21st century. The country revels in a globally competitive economic attitude. This is something Europe could do with more of and if Greece and other EU countries could swap their economic problems for Turkey’s, they certainly would. Likewise, bigger countries like Germany should consider a new, productive partner in future European growth.
A new regional political map with Turkey painted navy blue? That would mean an expansive Europe, one doing exactly what it says on the EU tin and promoting trade and democracy. Turkey, in turn, would benefit in Europe and would be the clearest sign yet of an expansive bloc, one ready to cast off the Eurozone crisis and define itself through democratic values, ambition and growth in the 21st century.
We should welcome Turkey to Europe, and do so before the window of opportunity has passed.