Flirting on the west-?stlichen Divan

Joschka Fischer, visiting Ankara, comes out strongly for (eventual) Turkish accession to the EU, reports the S?ddeutsche:

Europa werde ?einen hohen Preis? daf?r zahlen, wenn es die T?rkei aus der Europ?ischen Union heraushalten wolle. F?r Europas Sicherheit sei die T?rkei wichtiger als ein ?Raketenabwehrsystem?…

[Europe will pay a high price if it wants to keep Turkey out of the European Union. For European security, Turkey is more important than a missile defence system]

But there are not a few hurdles in the way. In an interview with H?rriyet, the German foreign minister noted that, in Germany as well as other EU lands, there are ‘rational as well as emotional objections’ to a Turkish accession, and that these will need some serious wrestling.

Some of these objections are rational indeed. Cyprus is an obvious and painful sore thumb. And, though Turkey seems to have improved somewhat in recent years, its human rights record needs a bit of burnishing to bring it up to EU standard. (And I’d have thought the prospect of eventual EU membership a great big fat carrot in that regard.)

Given such rational objections, I think it clear that an invitation to Turkey to join tomorrow would be premature. But Turkey can work with the EU to remove those objections.

It is the irrational objections that annoy me. And these, I suspect, are not objections to Turkey joining now but joining ever.

The objection that only a small smidgen of Turkey is actually in Europe may be waved aside with a laugh. That is the argument of those who triumphantly point out that Ireland sticks up farther north than Northern Ireland (or Virginia farther west than West Virginia).

But the more serious ’emotional’ objections boil down merely to bigotry. In Germany, the right-wing Union parties think Turkey too, em, different to belong to the EU. One suspects they’d be more amenable to the idea, if only the Turks were Christian, and less swarthy.

But it’s called the ‘European Union’, not the ‘European Christian Union’. Europe is not Christendom. It is a post-Christian place in which a good number of people remain, to a greater or lesser degree, Christians. In the same way, Turkey is not Islamic, though most Turks are (to a greater or lesser degree) Muslims.

Squint your eyes a bit so the confessional differences blur. In this light, Turkey and Europe start to look much the same: secular polities that leave a lot of room for individual religious belief. (Indeed, one could argue that European nations are more solicitous of the religious freedom of Muslims than is Turkey; or at least one could have done, before a number of European governments began recently to shriek in horror at the sight of a hijab.)

Yes, there are devout Muslims in Turkey, and some of them have views that don’t quite square with modernity. But then one may easily enough find Bavarian backwoodsmen who still have the Syllabus of Errors written in their hearts; that is no reason to expel Germany into the utter void. Squint your eyes, as I say, and those who dislike secularism and pluralism start to look very much alike, whether they be Germans or Turks. And secular, pluralist democracies can tolerate them, even leave them free to live and believe as they wish.

Those Europeans who cannot put the Battle of Lepanto behind them ought to reflect that the current member states have done pretty well at leaving behind the Battle of Verdun. And that, in a way, is the point of the exercise.

11 thoughts on “Flirting on the west-?stlichen Divan

  1. like it or not, Turkey is and has historically been attached to Europe, and not just geographically.

    One of my big concerns is that Turkey will drag NATO into the coming Iraqi civil war, and not for the better.

    To my mind, that’s an argument to accelerate Turkey’s application, and dispense lesser conditions for just this one: Keep out of Iraq.

  2. I think the recent Iraq experience of trying to introduce democracy by force should have set us all thinking. We can make mistakes, but we should be able to learn. Make business not war. So for once I agree with Patrick: fastrack Turkey and push all the harder for reform.

    I would even bring Turkey in ahead of the other EU candidates (sorry Bulgaria) since I think we need its young population. Inject some life and energy into a balding Europe, something unfortunately the Eastern countries cannot do.

    And note, it is not only China and India who are flourishing: Turkey’s favourable demographics seem to mean that she is in the midst of a full ‘growth renaissance’.

  3. One of the main problems with respect to the German – let’s say – cultural objections to Turkish Eu membership is the demographic structure of Turks in Germany. Their majority hails from poor and traditional rural Anatolia rather than from the relatively affluent and modern West – so – while it may not be “representative” of Turkey as a whole, the everyday “Turkish experience” in Germany is a lot more traditional and Islamic than conveyed in this article.

    Now that may not be a reason not to admit Turkey to the EU. But it explains rather well why this issue will always be one of political salience in Germany (and it’s not just right of the center parties).

  4. Has anyone given much thought to the fact that Turkey’s 70-million strong population, which is still growing at a rate of 1.2% a year, threatens to seriously destabilize the balance of power in a Europe in which populations are either stagnant or decreasing? Would Europeans truly be comfortable with a massive but poor Turkey sending millions more of its citizens streaming out of its borders? Would the idea of giving Turkey a voting weight commensurate with its population i.e, more than Britain, France and Germany, sit comfortably with many Europeans?

    I think the sheer size and poverty of Turkey poses serious obstacles to that nation’s being comfortably digested by the EU. The religion issue also can’t be waved away; I’m no fan of anti-islamic bigotry, but I’ve done my share of living in places where believing muslims had the upper hand, and it isn’t an experience I’m eager to repeat. Cosmopolitans dwelling in Istanbul are by no means representative of the great mass of Turkey’s population.

  5. I presume there is more of a “practical” objection to “more Turks, on top of the Turks we’ve already got, and on top of all the Poles, and Slavs, and Albanians we can handle pouring into our cities”. Rather than offense at the theoretical connection of an abstract Europe with a Muslim nation, however swarthy.

  6. I’m hardly in any position to be bothered by anyone else’s “swarthiness”; it’s the sheer numbers, and the cultural practices they’d bring with them, that gives me cause for thought.

    If I could be sure that forced marriages, honour killings and calls for imposition of sharia wouldn’t follow on the heels of these newcomers, I’d be much less exercised by the prospect of Turkish EU membership. I suspect that the issue really is racial for a sizable number of Europeans, though.

  7. This article from The Economist says this on probable migration from the accession states that:

    Recent academic simulations have predicted that as many as 3m-4m people will migrate from central to western Europe in the 25 years after enlargement, about 1% of the present EU population. Roughly half of those will be workers. There will be a first surge of migrants for two or three years, then a falling away (see chart). Based on past trends, at least half the migrants will head for Germany.

    Those who think the rate of migration will be higher point to German unification, when over 7% of the population moved from east to west in ten years, despite a huge flow of subsidies from west to east. Those who think it will be lower cite the EU’s experience with Spain and Portugal, which joined in 1986. There was no big outflow then: rather the opposite, as strong growth at home attracted Spaniards and Portuguese back from other countries. But when they joined, Spain and Portugal had living standards much closer to the EU average than the countries of central Europe do now. Spanish purchasing power was about two-thirds of the EU average. For Poland, the biggest country in central Europe, the figure is about 40%.

    That said, the accession states seem to be quickly becoming countries of net immigration, as this Eurostat report suggests; Hungary, Slovenia, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic are already net receivers of immigrants.

    The problem with Turkey joining the European Union is that its population, unlike that of the acceding states, is growing quite rapidly through natural increase, but that Turkish living standards on average are lower than those of any of the applicant states save Romania and Bulgaria. Worse, there are severe east/west gradients, such that eastern Turkey could probably be described as Third World. It makes sense to assume that, upon entering the European Union and assuming that migration is freed, you could see a massive migration into richer European countries.

    This isn’t a bad thing, if it’s properly managed; the problem is that it won’t be, given rising paranoia all around about Muslims, even if they are Europeans.

    What Turkey needs is a nice decade of rapid, job-creating economic growth, something to bring it up to the 40% mark, say.

  8. I generally agree with an European Turkey, but I think there are still other factors that aren’t being addressed here (as if the things being discussed weren’t enough).

    I’ve been told there are those in the corridors of power in Brussels who genuinely think that the biggest mistake Europe ever made was letting Greece in. The reason has something to do with the “political culture” there — a vague phrase if there ever was one — which stems not from the Roman tradition, but from the Byzantine. A more learned person that I would be able to say specifically what this means in terms of relations between the secular state, the church and the military.

    In other words, the problem isn’t Turkey per se, nor Islam, but the political culture of the East in general — which is not properly European. So goes the thinking. It’s worth pointing out that the military still has a tremenous role in Turkish politics; it’s brought down several governments in recent decades, and there was even speculation that the military might intervene to prevent Erdogan from taking power. (Importantly, it didn’t. The Turkish parliament has also passed a bill reducing the power of the military, although this has yet to be implemented.)

    The final consideration is geo-political. Successfully bringing Turkey into the European fold could — and I think there’s a good chance it would, provided the counter-reaction didn’t kill the process — bring about a democratic, secularized Islam that could be a model for the rest of the Muslim world. Perhaps even, to small degree, it would be something akin to the “Islamic Reformation” that all the talking heads were going on about after 9/11.

  9. The idea that Western Europe shares a single/ unified/monolithic political culture doesn’t pass the laugh test.

    If the technocrats in Brussels can’t work with Eastern Europe politically, then fire them and move the capital elsewhere.

  10. “If the technocrats in Brussels can’t work with Eastern Europe politically, then fire them and move the capital elsewhere. ”

    The technocrats are from all Europe, so the place is secondary.


  11. “The technocrats are from all Europe, so the place is secondary.”

    Excellent, then we can assume that they have a contigency that understand Eastern European political institutions and how they work, both above the surface and below.

    There’s no need for asinine excuses about incompatible political cultures. Interfacing between diverse political cultures is the technocrats job, after all.

    What I read into that complaint is that they’re afraid that admitting Turkey will upset the balance of powers within the Union. Which it will. That’s not a reason to oppose it however. And if the Union is to fragile to survive Turkey’s admittance, then the Union needs to be torn down and rebuilt anyway.

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