A Turkey Egg. The President’s trip to Europe, and his first visit to a Muslim country, Turkey, has been widely hailed as a success. But he has annoyed French President Nicholas Sarkozy, and others, by repeatedly calling for Turkey to be admitted to the EU. Sarkozy responded by saying that this was a decision for EU member-states, and for once I agree with Sarkozy.
I am well aware of the arguments advanced by this US administration (and, to be fair, by the Bush Administration before it) in favour of Turkey’s membership. Turkey has been a loyal member of NATO, the eastern bastion of the Alliance, and deserves EU membership as a “reward”. It has supported the allies in Iraq. Turkey deserves our recognition and support as a moderate, democratic Muslim state, and therefore a living demonstration that an Islamic country can co-exist with liberal Western democratic values. Some even argue that Europe’s ageing population needs an infusion of young blood, and young workers, from Turkey’s teeming and relatively young population, which is 72 million strong — larger than the UK, and likely to overtake Germany, the EU’s most populous state, in a few years.
But the counter-arguments are strong too. Turkey is large. Compared to most of the EU, it is very poor, and likely to be a drain on EU resources. But it is also radically different in cultural and (let’s face it) religious terms. European countries can absorb immigrants of many backgrounds, but increasingly we are starting to ask “How many? And how quickly?”. We are asking these questions not least in the UK, where historically exceptional rates of immigration are challenging our social infrastructure.
Without for a moment condoning anti-Turkish feeling, and still less anti-Turkish atrocities in some EU member-states, it is still legitimate to point to them as evidence that high rates of immigration, especially of people from very different cultures, create potential problems. It should not be so, but it is.
But for me there is one factor that clinches the issue, and that is the question of democracy. We have already allowed the majority of our laws to be made by coalitions of Lithuanians and Slovenians and Portuguese (and others), and our UK vote in the deliberations of Brussels is down to around 8%. If Turkey were to join the EU, our share of population would be down from 13.3% to 11.5%, and our vote on majority-voting issues would reduce proportionately. Meantime Turkey would no doubt expect the same voting weight as Germany, and more than any other member-state.
If we had the kind of EU that I would want, based solely on free trade and voluntary intergovernmental cooperation, I should be happy to welcome any democratic country of good will, under the rule of law, and with broadly free-market principles. Turkey. Israel. Ukraine. Taiwan. Let ’em all come. But if they are going to make the laws that govern me in Britain and my fellow citizens, then we have too many foreigners doing that already, thanks very much, and we don’t need any more.
France has proposed that instead of EU membership, Turkey should be offered a “Privileged Partnership”. I’m not sure what that would give Turkey beyond what it has now — it already has a free trade deal, and large numbers of Turks live and work in the EU. But it seems to me that such a partnership could give Turkey most of the benefits of EU membership with few of the costs and drawbacks. Indeed it sounds such a good deal, that as I said in a plenary debate in Strasbourg recently, I should like to see the same offer made to the UK as well.
Clearly Obama, in his rush to reward Turkey for loyalty, has not thought through the issues of democracy. He should listen to Belgian blogger Jean Quatremer who writes that Barack Obama’s statement in support of Turkish membership of the EU is the equivalent of Angela Merkel, as “The newly elected President of the EU” declaring to Mexico’s Parliament: “Let me be clear: the European Union firmly supports Mexico’s candidacy to the United States.” We should see how the American people would react to proposals that their domestic laws should be made by parliamentarians from other North American states.
It has well been said that Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas. And I suspect that EU citizens and member-states will not vote for Turkish accession either.