David Cameron in Ankara has said that “prejudice” is blocking Turkish accession to the EU. That’s the kind of cheap shot we’d expect from a Labour politician discussing immigration, not from a Conservative Prime Minister. He should pause and reflect that opponents of Turkish accession may have perfectly logical policy reasons for their opposition – as I do.
It’s worth reviewing some of the arguments used by Cameron and others on this issue.
“As a staunch member of NATO, Turkey should be rewarded with EU membership”. The USA is also a staunch member of NATO, but no one is suggesting it should join the EU. So is Norway, but it understands it is better off outside the EU. We should not be trading political union in exchange for military alliance.
“Turkey is an important trading partner with a growing economy”. True. So are China and India (I applaud Cameron’s initiative in India), but we’re not inviting them to join the EU. Turkey already has access to the Single Market, and has been offered a “privileged partnership”. Indeed I once spoke in the Strasbourg plenary on this, pointing out that a privileged partnership offered most of the benefits of membership with few of the costs, so was actually better than full membership – and I got a shock/horror reaction when I argued that such a relationship would be better for the UK too!
“Turkey in the EU would demonstrate that a moderate Islamic country can co-exist with Western values”. Maybe. I admire Turkey’s secular tradition. But the Turkish government is already struggling to keep the lid on Islamism. We might allow a secular Turkey to accede to the EU, only to find a few years later that we had a fundamentalist cuckoo in the nest.
“Turkey is a populous country with a young demographic – just the thing to off-set aging Western populations”. True. Turkey has a larger population than any EU country except Germany, and on current trends will overtake Germany within twenty years. If it joined the EU, it would expect the largest voting share. And here is the fundamental objection to Turkish membership: each new member-state dilutes what remains of our democracy and independence, and a very large state like Turkey dilutes it massively. I don’t see why Turkey should have a bigger say in making laws that affect us here in the UK than we Brits have.
But this raises another issue: immigration. It has now become respectable to speak about immigration, without Labour leaders shouting “Racist!” (which is why it is so disappointing to hear Cameron trotting out the “prejudice” card). At the last election, worries about immigration, not entirely unjustified, were a top issue on the doorstep. It is really extraordinary that we should be proposing to open the floodgates (are we allowed to say “floodgates”? I will anyway) to potentially millions of people from a very different and relatively poor country. In Germany there is a large Turkish population; in France there is a large North African population; and these groups have given rise to serious social problems and tensions. To say that is not to apportion blame; still less to demonstrate prejudice. It is simply a statement of fact, and no British government will be forgiven if it invites similar problems here. It would be lunacy to offer free movement to Turkey, not least because Turkey’s own borders are not secure from the east.
France & Germany have taken a much more rational approach to the issue, and though I hate to say it, this time Sarkozy and Merkel are right, and Cameron is wrong. Several continental countries have guaranteed their people a referendum on Turkish accession, and it is inconceivable that it would be approved. Indeed a cynic might conclude that Cameron was scoring cheap brownie points in Ankara by talking up Turkish accession, secure in the knowledge that he would never have to pick up the tab.
I suspect that any referendum on Turkish accession would be lost in the UK too. Certainly I find ordinary Conservative Party members bewildered by the Leadership’s obsession with Turkey, and almost universally opposed to Turkey in the EU.
Personally I should like to see more emphasis on the Anglosphere (Cameron’s India mission is an excellent start) and less on an EU whose centre of gravity is moving eastwards.
But let me offer an olive branch to Cameron and Hague: if they can reduce the EU to what it should be – a simple Free Trade Area – then I will lead the charge for Turkish accession. And Israel. And Taiwan. But not while the EU is a political union.
So in my view, if Turkey joins the EU, then the UK would be Better Off Out. Indeed come to think of it, the UK would be Better Off Out anyway.