Not So Trivial Pursuits

[The observant among you may have noticed that two earlier post-ettes have suddenly disappeared. The even more observant will have noted that they are now over at our sister blog – A Few Euros More – where they should have gone in the first place. I’ve picked up some bug or other and am a little groggy today, I hope it doesn’t show up too much in my argument :).]

Now, yesterday I focused on some relatively trivial examples of inflexibility on the part of the Commission, decisions I argued that did not really serve the interests on the Union itself. Today I have two more to add to the list (one in this post and one in the next), but these have a rather greater import.

Firstly there is the question of formally opening negotiations with Turkey, negotiations over an accession which would take place ten years from now at the earliest. However in recent days it has become evident, to say the least, that not everyone is happy with the conditions as already laid down for the start of negotiations with Turkey.

First off the starting block was Angela Merkel, who repeated her demand that Turkey could be asked to settle for a ?privileged partnership? which would be short of full membership. Now M Merkel is an aspiring Chancellor who has not personally held responsibility for the negotiations to date, as such I think she is entitled to hold whatever opinions she chooses within the context of being coherent with the commitments entered into by her predecessor on behalf of the German state.

Rather different is the case of Jaques Chirac, who appears to have moved from being one of the few major French politicians willing to back Turkish membership, to saying last Friday that Turkey needed to recognise Cyprus, and that the continuing failure to do so ?poses political and legal problems and is not in the spirit expected of a candidate to the union?. Which is fair enough, but couldn’t he have mentioned this earlier?

Now I personally am in favour of Turkey EU membership, partly because they are a ‘young’ society, which I think will be a good balance in an ‘older’ EU. But this is not the only reason. I think having Turkey in the EU will send a message out to the rest of the world about what contemporary European values really are, and I welcome that message. I am aware that others do not, and I think this is a legitimate area of debate. The issue really comes to a head if – as I suspect – a large majority of EU voters polled at this very moment wouldn’t want Turkey as a member. Under these circumstances I think it would be foolhardy to proceed as if this reality wasn’t there. So I think at least a gentle break on the process might be necessary, otherwise we may all collectively face a growing anti-EU backlash at the hands of populist politicians. Politics, surely, is the art of the possible. In this context one could be kind to Chirac and say he was giving everyone a gentleman’s way out.

This entry was posted in A Fistful Of Euros, Transition and accession and tagged , , , by Edward Hugh. Bookmark the permalink.

About Edward Hugh

Edward 'the bonobo is a Catalan economist of British extraction. After being born, brought-up and educated in the United Kingdom, Edward subsequently settled in Barcelona where he has now lived for over 15 years. As a consequence Edward considers himself to be "Catalan by adoption". He has also to some extent been "adopted by Catalonia", since throughout the current economic crisis he has been a constant voice on TV, radio and in the press arguing in favor of the need for some kind of internal devaluation if Spain wants to stay inside the Euro. By inclination he is a macro economist, but his obsession with trying to understand the economic impact of demographic changes has often taken him far from home, off and away from the more tranquil and placid pastures of the dismal science, into the bracken and thicket of demography, anthropology, biology, sociology and systems theory. All of which has lead him to ask himself whether Thomas Wolfe was not in fact right when he asserted that the fact of the matter is "you can never go home again".

14 thoughts on “Not So Trivial Pursuits

  1. “as such I think she is entitled to hold whatever opinions she chooses within the context of being coherent with the commitments entered into by her predecessor on behalf of the German state.”

    This seemingly bland comment is in fact an extraordinary statement. She is entitled to hold any opinions she wants even if they run directly contrary to the commitments entered into by her predecessor, including a commitment (if elected) just to veto Turkish entry there and then, De Gaulle style. Otherwise democracy would be abolished just be making commitments on all policy areas ad infinitum. Electing Zapatero was a way of rejecting the commitments entered into by his predecessor on behalf of the Spanish state, and that’s the way it should be. (This point stands separately from whether Turkey should be allowed to become a member of the EU).

    Your post below is more reasonable in relation to exactly the same issue. There you seem to think that whether the UK goes fully metric should be dependent on public opinion (and, I suppose, elections) inside the UK, despite metrification being a commitment entered into by predecessor governments of the UK. That view is correct and applies to many other issues.

  2. “This seemingly bland comment is in fact an extraordinary statement.”

    I think Otto in your rush to make this point you are missing the thrust of my substantive argument.

    “Your post below is more reasonable in relation to exactly the same issue.”

    I don’t see how it is more reasonable, since I am making the same point. My reference to “being coherent with committments” was a kind of jurisprudence caveat, to try and protect me from another kind of argument (more on this in a minute) and what I am saying is that the EU should be flexible and bend to voter opinions, just as it should with weights and measures and free-range eggs. I am not making any distinction.

    Now…. the phrase you don’t like is *in fact* bland. It is only an argument about coherence, not about absolute values. (Incidentally, I think I am wrong on something you didn’t pick me up on: Angela Merkel can hold whatever opinions she chooses, this is basic, it is what she says she is going to do if elected Chancellor that matters).

    “Electing Zapatero was a way of rejecting the commitments entered into by his predecessor on behalf of the Spanish state”

    I don’t think this is comparable. There was no international treaty involved, Zapatero’s legal advisers believed the war to be illegal under international law, and there were major issues about Aznar by-passing the Spanish parliament.

    Now, this is not to say you aren’t partly right. If Berlusconi, say, were to campaign in next years Italian elections on a ticket of ‘Bring back the Lira’ then obviously he would be entitled to do that providing he laid out in his manifesto what he was going to renegotiate. Sovereign countries have that right.

    But there is the issue of EU governability. The issue here wouldn’t be about Turkey, but about reopening policy decisions (I know, I know, the UK now wants to do the same with agriculture policy). For the EU to work there clearly has to be a set of custom-based procedures for how and when you re-open issues, otherwise with 25 members the thing is unworkable. Those, perhaps like you, who want this to happen so it will collapse, understandably object to this. I understand your point of view, but it isn’t mine.

  3. The EU will not collapse if Turkey does not join, nor if the process is vetoed now.

    Re-opening issues is what democracy is about. Governability has to manage this possibility. If it ignores it, then people who cannot vote for their views within the EU will vote against the EU.

    I know that Aznar did not have a treaty with Bush re. the Iraq war. But are you really saying that if there had been such a treaty, ejecting him to reject those commitments would have been impossible? I doubt it.

  4. “The EU will not collapse if Turkey does not join”

    I did not say that the EU would collapse if Turkey does not join, nowhere do I say that. In fact I am saying the opposite, that people like me being too dogmatic about Turkey membership negotiations *now* could put the long term integration process at risk. Politics is also about learning to withdraw in order to live to fight another day.

    What I indicated *would* put the long term governability of the EU at risk is the permanent re-opening of decided issues following a national election in each of the 25 states. It is on this topic that I would like to hear Angela Merkel’s opinions (although doubtless, if she is elected, I will, unless of course there is a grand coalition).

    “But are you really saying that if there had been such a treaty, ejecting him to reject those commitments would have been impossible?”

    I’m sorry, again, I never suggested this. I just said the two cases were different, apples and pears, so I don’t think you can deduce anything from one to the other. Zapatero just said he would withdraw the troops from Iraq, and he did. I have no issue with him there (regardless of whether I agree we the decision).

    “Re-opening issues is what democracy is about.”

    Yes, but with an important proviso: that there is an underlying consensus about how and when. The cultural revolution in China was about total and permanent discussion, and the maoists of the time made life unbearable for everyone else.

    For example democracy normally implies that if you campaign stongly on an issue into an election, and loose the election, you don’t continue pressing the topic with the same fervour straight after. You accept the verdict of the election.

    Previous decisions of elected governments at EU level need the same respect. I am not, repeat not, denying Angela Merkel the *right* to reopen the issue, I am just asking that she spell out the criteria under which this procedure is available to each and every member state. But c’mon, you aren’t really worried about all these niceties are you? What you would like to see is a big spanner thrown into the works, or am I wrong?

  5. Of course the two situations (Spain/Iraq and Germany/Turkey) are not identical. That is never the point of any comparison.

    “I am just asking that she spell out the criteria under which this procedure is available to each and every member state.” If the EU decision-making process in an issue-area is by unanimity, it’s open to every member state all the time.

    “What you would like to see is a big spanner thrown into the works, or am I wrong?” The discussion is better without indulging in pathologisation of your partners’ motives in conversation.

  6. “Of course the two situations (Spain/Iraq and Germany/Turkey) are not identical.”

    I’m sorry, I never said they were identical, I said they weren’t similar, comparable.

    “If the EU decision-making process in an issue-area is by unanimity, it’s open to every member state all the time.”

    Yes, but this is clearly unworkable, that’s why we need a constitution. In the meantime there is custom and practice, responsible politicians don’t simply re-open discussions every five minutes, and Angela Merkel, I’m sure, is a responsible politician. That is why I will be interested in her explanation in this case.

    “The discussion is better without indulging in pathologisation of your partners’ motives in conversation.”

    I quite agree, and patholigisation wasn’t my intention, and I’m sorry if you took it that way, it was a genuine question: do you think the EU can be reformed into a more responsive entity? I ask this since in another thread you say:

    “Stupid regulations being enforced willy-nilly is what the EU does. You either celebrate it, because they deal with externalities however heavy-handedly, or reject it, but hoping for a better and brighter EU where subsidiarity is taken seriously is a fool’s dream.”

    This tends to suggest you don’t believe in the possibility of reform. Again, I ask, am right or am I wrong?

  7. Iraq/Spain and Turkey/Germany are comparable in the sense that they are both international commitments being challenged by the democratic process. Indeed their similarity continues with the fact that preferences of civil society in Germany and Spain are both being ignored in government decision-making. Changing governments is a good way to stop that.

    I do think heavy handed and thus frequently stupid common regulations is what the EU does, and what is will continue to do regardless of any ‘reforms’ (or any reforms we are likely to see – certainly the proposed constitutional treaty would have made things worse on balance). The choices are thinking that the EU in this respect is on balance positive or on balance negative. Again this point is entirely separate from making an assessment of whether that balance is positive or negative; and indeed entirely separate from the Turkish entry or the impact of the German election on Turkish entry being discussed.

    Your blog is good. But if every discussion rushes to imputation of overall motives, posters might as well just shout the Ode to Joy or the Marseillese at each other and be done with it.

  8. “The choices are thinking that the EU in this respect is on balance positive or on balance negative.”

    Yes, but which is your opinion? I’m simply curious, this isn’t an interrogation.

    “But if every discussion rushes to imputation of overall motives”

    No, again I’m sorry if you have this impression, what I’m interested in are your actual opinions, I was insinuating you were a eurosceptic, which is a legitimate point of view as far as I am concerned. What do you think about Turkey membership as a substantive issue, I think my point of view is clear.

    “Indeed their similarity continues with the fact that preferences of civil society in Germany and Spain are both being ignored in government decision-making. Changing governments is a good way to stop that.”

    Well with this, of course, I wouldn’t disagree. I was deeply worried by the fact that there was no proposal for a referendum on the constitution in Germany, even though the vote might have gone against the treaty.

    “in the sense that they are both international commitments being challenged by the democratic process.”

    OK lets take a hypothetical case. Germany is a signatory to the international treaty on torture. Now lets imagine a democratically elected government comes to power on a programme of ‘bringing back torture’. OK, this happens, it is put into law, and the torture legally commences. But if the German head of state goes to another EU country he/she can be arrested (the Pinochet case shows this). So sovereignty has limits. There is international law and there are multilateral institutions. Germany is party to another of these, the European Union. What the obligations of the German government was in any given situation would be a matter for the courts t decide, if push came to shove. The same thing with debts, Argentina couldn’t get out of its liabilities and obligations just by changing government, nor will Italy be able to.

    So there are lots of levels to all this. Life is never straightforward.

    Actually none of this applies to the Turkey negotiations case, but still. This, as I have indicated *is* similar to the UK attempt to renegotiate the CAP.

    “If the EU decision-making process in an issue-area is by unanimity,”

    Yes, but I don’t think this is going to be the case here. As I understand it Germany will have to try and get the decision to open negotiations changed (if Chirac doesn’t beat Merkel to it), so Germany would need at least a majority of other states to go with it: there is an asymmetry between approving and up-turning.

    What she would probably do would be attempt to block something else – say budget – in an attempt to force a compromise. So, of course, everyone can try and block the budget (the UK obviously is already doing this) and once more the whole thing looks like a horse fair. I suppose we need to wait till October, then we’ll really see.

  9. OK, this happens, it is put into law, and the torture legally commences.

    Germany would disratify the treaty. There are ways to do such things. But this is a question about the law of nations, not about principles.

    There can be no absolute comitment to earlier decisions. It must be possible to change one’s mind. On the other hand, a state’s word must be worth something. I consider it an error of the constitutions of the european states that they don’t require a supermajority to ratify a treaty.

    This brings us to the issue at hand. Getting Turkey into the EU will require ratification by all members. This is certainly about the EU, but not by the EU. Any member may certainly announce at any time that it won’t ratify. That would make negotiations kind of moot. Schr?der’s government hasn’t, as it cannot, ratified in advance. Germany may certainly change its mind about what is an acceptable result of the negotiations.

    She does not challenge any binding commitment here. She has not proposed to undo the enlargement of 2004.
    Regarding the CAP the UK does recognise that absent any changes the current rules remain in force. So this is not about commitments. It is about making proposals to change something. The member states must keep the right to make those as they please.

  10. Incidentally, one thing we don’t seem to be discussing very much in this thread is the actual Turkey proposal. As Olli Rehn is saying (see this article:

    http://news.ft.com/cms/s/5067fd6e-199b-11da-804e-00000e2511c8.html)

    Turkey has made moves on the human rights front , and has extended the customs union to include Cyprus. He is now indicating that Turkey needs to do more on the Cyprus front, and basically recognise Cyprus – as Chirac also is suggesting. But for those of you who are against Turkey membership in and of itself, isn’t there a danger here? Mightn’t Turkey, under the pressure of seeing the date for opening negotiations steadily disappear over the horizon, actually agree to recognise Cyprus (a good thing obviously). And wouldn’t the negotiations then need to move forward?

    And what will be Angela Merkel’s strategy? What she wants is to change the long term object of the negotiations, from membership to partnership, so this is not an in principle objection to the negotiations. Procedurally I’m not sure what she can do about introducing the change. She wouldn’t be the first politician to bend under the pressure of ‘realpolitik’. Normally those who really stick to their guns (or obsessions) have a fanatic like air (Mrs T) and this doesn’t seem to be Merkel’s case.

    My guess is that Turkey will make more changes, and that the negotiations will begin in or around the October scheduled date. There is then a ten year process, and plenty of room to ‘fillibuster’ or whatever. Equally, how many of todays leaders will still be in power by 2014, so I think there is plenty of water to go under the bridge yet awhile, and, who knows, popular sentiment may even change on the issue, stranger things have happened before.

    @ Oliver, some details

    “This brings us to the issue at hand. Getting Turkey into the EU will require ratification by all members”

    Yes, but as I am indicating, this ratification is years away, and we may have different politicians by then.

    “Any member may certainly announce at any time that it won’t ratify. That would make negotiations kind of moot.”

    Yes, “moot”, or lead (I think more probably) to yet more ‘horse-trading’.

    “That would make negotiations kind of moot. Schr?der’s government hasn’t, as it cannot, ratified in advance”

    No, but if you look at the FT link, Olli Rehn does seem to be in rather a hurry to get things moving. The looming German elections wouldn’t be one of the reasons here, now would they? Hon y soit qui mal y pense. Actually I would argue that the German representatives (Joska Fisher?) has a duty to resist this, given that nothing should at this stage be decided which might bind a different incoming Chancellor. Of course, if you were really Machiavellian, you might think that Rehn was being pushed by Merkel herself, so that she would be faced with a fait accompli, and could remain one of Hegel’s ‘beautiful souls’ with her integrity intact without having to actually do anything. Remember, any new government will already have plenty on the plate, including at EU level the need to get budget changes and the deficit SGP issue.

    “Regarding the CAP the UK does recognise that absent any changes the current rules remain in force.”

    Yes, and this will be precisely Merkel’s situation on the Turkey negotiations if Rehn gets his way. BTW, note the following in the FT piece:

    “The issue is due to be discussed by EU foreign ministers tomorrow at a meeting near Newport in Wales.”

    Well, lets see what they say.

  11. Mightn’t Turkey, under the pressure of seeing the date for opening negotiations steadily disappear over the horizon, actually agree to recognise Cyprus (a good thing obviously). And wouldn’t the negotiations then need to move forward?

    Those who are too meek to admit to their real reason might say so. But a recognition won’t change the size of Turkey’s population.

    Actually I would argue that the German representatives (Joska Fisher?) has a duty to resist this, given that nothing should at this stage be decided which might bind a different incoming Chancellor.

    Strictly speaking a chancellor’s term last until the first meeting of the new Bundestag. Only after that may he be retained as a caretaker until the new chancellor is appointed.

    including at EU level the need to get budget changes and the deficit SGP issue.

    Need? Germany can certainly live with the status quo and the importance of this issue is dwarfed by the labor market, health care and pensions.

    What is unclear to me is who will do the actual negotiation. The comission? A delegation of the member states? If the former, a decision is a decision. Anyway, it is far from sure that Germany would be alone using a veto on this issue.

  12. Well EU Observer has some relevant news on this front:

    http://euobserver.com/?sid=9&aid=19752

    Austria, it seems, will try to get the idea of ‘partnership’ onto the table. The relevant point seems to be this:

    Member states have in principle agreed that talks with Ankara should start on 3 October. The European Commission formulated the draft negotiating terms before the summer, which state the eventual aim of full-fledged EU membership of Turkey. However, the negotiating mandate has to be approved by member states unanimously. Austrian foreign minister Ursula Plassnik yesterday (30 August) stated in a letter to her EU colleagues that the mandate should include an explicit mention of “a specific alternative to EU membership”.

  13. “What is unclear to me is who will do the actual negotiation.”

    Good question.

    You can find the negotiating framework for Turkey here:

    http://europa.eu.int/comm/enlargement/docs/pdf/negotiating_framework_turkey.pdf

    and the general explanation of the negotiations here:

    http://europa.eu.int/comm/enlargement/negotiations/index.htm

    The relevant bit seems to be:

    “On the Union side, the Member States are the parties to the accession negotiations. The Presidency of the Council of Ministers, which rotates among the member states every six months, presents the negotiating positions agreed by the Council and chairs negotiating sessions at the level of ministers or their deputies.

    Each applicant country draws up its position on each of the 31 chapters of the EU acquis, to engage in negotiations. Each applicant has appointed a Chief Negotiator, with a supporting team of experts.

    The European Commission proposes the draft negotiating positions. The Commission is in close contact with the applicant countries in order to seek solutions to problems arising during the negotiations. Within the Commission, the work is coordinated by the Directorate General for Enlargement.

    The General Secretariat of the Council and the applicant countries provide the secretariat for the negotiations. The European Parliament is kept informed of the progress of the negotiations and gives its assent to the resulting accession treaties. Each Member State will need to ratify the treaties of accession. In most cases this requires an act of Parliament. The debates on ratification will provide an opportunity for representatives of the people in each member state to express their view on enlargement.”

Comments are closed.