Turkish Accession Back On The Slow Track?

Despite the recent revival of optimism about the forthcoming Turkey negotiations following the apparent resolution of the ‘adultery ban’ issue, it is clear to everyone that significant hurdles still remain to be overcome. Among these may now need to be added a referendum on Turkish membership in France.

Turkey will not join the European Union for at least 15 years and could only do so once France had held a referendum on the issue, French Finance Minister Nicolas Sarkozy said on Sunday.

?The membership of Turkey, in the best of cases, will not happen for 15 years,? he told LCI television. ?A decision as important as the membership of Turkey in Europe could only be taken after there had been a referendum in France.?…….

He was sceptical about the idea ?not because it is a Muslim country but because Turkey alone represents the membership of the 10 countries (mainly) from eastern Europe?, he said, referring to the countries that joined the bloc this year.

Sarkozy made his comments after French Prime Minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin voiced misgivings on Thursday about Turkey joining the bloc, asking if Europe really wanted ?the river of Islam to enter the riverbed of secularism?.

Raffarin said Turkey had made progress in adjusting its laws and institutions to EU standards under Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan, but queried the overwhelmingly Muslim but secular state?s ability to stay the course.
Source: Financial Times

Clearly everyone involved in the debate is aware of the problem of Turkey staying ‘on course’. Clearly also it is difficult for any democrat to object to the principle of ‘citizen consultation’ about important issues, still it is important to note the growing recourse to the referendum as the means of making such consultation (this process will probably reach a climax with next year’s votes on the proposed EU constitution). This would seem to be an additional hurdle for Turkey, given that such a procedure was not followed in the case of the recent round of accession.

The timing of any Turkish entry will, of course, be important, but 15 years does seem to be an incredibly long time in the context of a rapidly changing world. IMHO if we are really concerned about keeping Turkey ‘on course’, then we need to be able to maintain a carrot which is sufficiently attractive while at the same time waving a stick which implies a sufficiently high standard for change. Those who would justify resort to referendum also really need to be able to field arguments which go rather beyond the “river of Islam” approach.

Two further points. It is curious how the appeal to the magnitude of Turkey’s population seems to be playing an increasing role in the argument. Turkey’s relatively favourable demography (and especially when compared with the rather preoccupying demographic dynamics of many of the recent additions) would, I think, be one of the plus factors. Also, I think the potential of events in Iraq to knock Turkey ‘off course’ should be something which we all take very seriously indeed. Juan Cole had this link to a report from the Iraqui Turkmen Human Rights Research Foundation on informed comment over the weekend.

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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".

10 thoughts on “Turkish Accession Back On The Slow Track?

  1. “Clearly also it is difficult for any democrat to object to the principle of ?citizen consultation? about important issues”

    The other side of this coin is that a single member state (France) may, through its referendum, have a disproportionate influence on the decision whether or not to admit Turkey. One can imagine a hypothetical situation of 24 member states wanting Turkey to join and 1 member state refusing to let them in. In effect, 40 million French voters would have a veto on a major decision about the extent of the EU.

    This leaves the democrat who approves of citizen consultation in a dilemma.

  2. Indeed, somewhere between 10 and 20 years as the timeframe for potential Turkish accession seems to be the consensus view. And Volker R?he, in the course of criticising his party comrade Angela Merkel’s anti-accession stance (Germanophone readers may follow the link in the sidebar), predicts a long transition phase even after an acession; he thinks it will be 20-25 years all told before Turks gain full freedom of residence in the EU.

    As for the population thing, I agree, but I can see the other side’s point. If Turkey’s economy grows sufficiently between now and a future accession, its large population would be a big help. Today, of course, adding a poor and heavily-populated member state would be a great strain. But then, of course, Turkey is not going to be added today.

  3. Am I the only one who thinks that Sarkozy’s playing to the peanut gallery here?

    One, a referendum isn’t required for a veto. France vetoed British membership in 1963 without one.

    Two, Sarkozy is getting ready to run for President. So, vaguely populist national greatness stuff is exactly what you’d expect. And the fact that he made the remarks after Raffarin is suggestive; Sarkozy is too clever to allow a rival to grab such a potentially powerful issue.

    So, I’m not inclined to take this too seriously.

    (Although if Turkish membership gets conflated in the public mind with approval of the EU Constitution… ah, now that could get interesting.)

    Doug M.

  4. “Am I the only one who thinks that Sarkozy’s playing to the peanut gallery here?”

    No, I think you are probably right, but it is a kind of dangerous auction.

    “Indeed, somewhere between 10 and 20 years as the timeframe for potential Turkish accession seems to be the consensus view.”

    Personally I’d be looking for five to ten years. As I’ve said before I think if the EU doesn’t change course, then push comes to shove on all those deficits somewhere in the 2008 – 2012 time horizon, so anything after 2015 looks so far out in the future as to be a joke, quite frankly.

    Ironically looking at recent EU documentation, IMF and World bank reports and Greenspan’s speeches it seems to me that things really are starting to move on the recognition that economically motivated migration is going to be needed (posts on this to come). We would be in a really rather silly situation if we were opening up the gates to migrants whilst restricting migration from accession countries. Still looking quickly at Turkey’s demographics I doubt we’ll be seeing much out migration from Turkey 10 years hence (this also has a time window). Possibly Turkey itself could become a net receiver of migrants.

    (Don’t laugh, remember Spain, which 20 years ago had migrants all over the place, was last year the EU’s biggest single importer of migrants, and the principle of acceleration states that ‘things get quicker quicker’).

    The funny thing is that the argument about numbers of people seems to cut in strange directions. OTOH Turkey is too big to digest comfortably, OTOH it is of negligable economic importance, or so it is often argued. It is hard to win this kind of debate.

    The thing is that we have difficulty forward projecting growth rates (in our heads I mean). Turkey currently has a growth rate of around 7% if this is roughly sustained (give or take the odd business cycle) over 10 years as it closes on the EU, then we are no longer talking about a ‘poor and needy’ Turkey, but an economic power which can breathe some lifeblood into our ageing arteries.

  5. The other side of this coin is that a single member state (France) may, through its referendum, have a disproportionate influence on the decision whether or not to admit Turkey. One can imagine a hypothetical situation of 24 member states wanting Turkey to join and 1 member state refusing to let them in. In effect, 40 million French voters would have a veto on a major decision about the extent of the EU.

    As Doug points out, the problem is the veto. I think that referendums on the EU-level, that is referendums with all the population in EU being able to vote in the same referendum, could be a very good thing. It would be a major factor in actually creating a european political discussion. Philip Hunt of cabamalat.org suggested how this could be used for deciding the constitution as early as
    last december.

  6. I’m not sure that 15 years is such a long time for Turkey to procedurally join the EU, the problem is that France and some other members seem to want Turkey to wait a decade or so before it can even get a definite maybe.

    Since France especially is famous for ‘yes, but’ when it really means no, it must be disturbing to Turkey that it can’t even get that.

  7. “The other side of this coin is that a single member state (France) may, through its referendum, have a disproportionate influence on the decision whether or not to admit Turkey. One can imagine a hypothetical situation of 24 member states wanting Turkey to join and 1 member state refusing to let them in. In effect, 40 million French voters would have a veto on a major decision about the extent of the EU.”

    Yes, but the French voters would probably have the same opinion as those in other countries not allowed to vote.

    You may wish to recall that the French held a referendum on whether the United Kingdom should be admitted to the EU.

  8. They have done the yes, but for atleast the last 20 years in respect to Turkey so it is to late to do it again. Also the Union has already said yes if you do this in 1999 so it is to late to say no as they seem to meet the critiria . Atleast that will be the point-of-view of the pro-Turkey fraction

  9. I don’t see anything controversial on having a referendum on Turkey and not the other countries, since, as I recall, there was considerably less outcry with the other countries. (Quebec had a seccession referendum, but they would be less inclined to have a referendum on healthcare, pot would probably be more of a priority) The people should also be asked “how about ever?”–that would also be interesting.

  10. Possibly Turkey itself could become a net receiver of migrants.

    It certainly isn’t a net receiver yet, but it does have a significant number of immigrants, legal and illegal, from a swathe of what was once the former USSR from Moldova in the west to Kyrgyzstan in the East.