Wednesday 6 June 2012

Bienvenue Hollande…Bienvenue Turkey?

Henry Norman

Could Turkish membership of the EU now be on the horizon given the arrival of Hollande? Mustafa, Ozer/AFP/Getty Images.
Following the election of Francǫis Hollande to the French presidency, Europe will not only see a change to its growth strategy but possibly a fundamental addition to its current membership. Turkey, Europe's would be gateway to the Middle East, can now rest assured of a possible return to talks amongst the power brokers of the EU. If we momentarily cast aside the Armenian question when it comes to Franco-Turkish relations and instead focus upon the pressing issues of the day, it is clear that Hollande believes the issue of Turkey’s membership deserves serious consideration. This in contrast to Sarkozy's point blanked refusal to debate the issue.

Indeed, it is not the case that Turkey's membership rests solely in the hands of the French; Germany too has some way to move on the issue. Angela Merkel, although an opponent of Turkish membership, appointed Guido Westerwelle as foreign minister and who publicly stated that there is a need to 'overcome this frozen situation.' A far cry from just sweeping the issue under the carpet.

Of course, we are currently witnessing incredibly volatile times in the EU. One could be forgiven for thinking that the last thing European leaders want to consider now is expansion of the union. Flippantly one could argue that Europe can not even manage its already existing members! Indeed, it would be erroneous to assert that Turkey's path to European membership would be an entirely smooth affair. Martin Schulz, President of the European Parliament, commented that Turkey's EU membership would 'take a very long time and would be a difficult one.' 

We are not just talking about the need to overcome Turkey’s obvious human rights violations or its failure to recognise Cyprian sovereignty. These are issues that stand a better chance of being overcome by demonstrating to Turkey that their membership is indeed possible. As is with the case with Serbia, let the normative power of Europe just do its work. Europe however, is suffering a disenfranchisement amongst its peoples; a road ahead that no one is sure where it will exactly take them. One can foresee how Turkey's 99.8 per cent Muslim population will cause problems, not to mention that it does not exclusively lie on the European continent. 

Although nothing to do with Turkey, one need only look to the recent murmurings that the UK Labour party will promise a referendum on EU membership at the 2015 general election to see the uncertainty of the union. Party politics it may just be, but astonishing it remains that the Labour party, of all parties, would even consider such a move. Europe as fodder for the political parties of Britain may result in short-term gains but such moves lack the foresight of a possible lucrative future for the EU and Britain- especially if Turkey is allowed to join the mix. 

Admittedly David Cameron has publicly endorsed Turkey's candidature realising the benefits of Turkey's membership. Whilst it will result in marginal economic gains for the EU, in terms of regional security, Europe stands to gain most. Turkey's location next to Iran would allow the union geographically strategic borders. One could argue that this is exactly what Europe currently needs. In other words, the EU would come to really be depended upon. No longer would Herman Van Rompuy and Cathy Ashton just look like mere token symbols of a demi-power at the bargaining tables. 

I would hasten to add that it is all too easy to get carried away with the optimism created by the Hollande campaign; Turkey is not exactly at the top of the agenda. But as Egemen Bağış, the Turkish minister for EU affairs, astutely commented, ’Turkey is changing, the EU is changing and the new Europe cannot be without Turkey.' Whilst the latter part of that statement can be fiercely debated, no one can or should doubt that Turkey and the EU are both in states of metamorphosis. The Turkish economy may currently be experiencing a slow down (in part due to the faltering EU being its largest export market) but this should not prevent any movement on the issue. It is important to remember that Turkey’s membership should be seen as a long-term not short-term solution to the unions’ ills. 

This is exactly what British policy makers, present and future, should keep in mind. Hollande has realised that when it comes to the EU economy, growth is just as important, as are the current processes of budgetary consolidation. Moreover, our cousins on the continent are beginning to realise the potential that can result from Turkish membership. Whilst it is the case that the major UK political parties remain in favour of Turkish candidature, their current pandering to anti-European rhetoric risks overlooking the 'new' Europe that may result after the current calamity passes over. Surely it cannot be the case that Britain's future lies outside of a union strategically strengthened by the presence of Turkey and a union whose role can only gain in significance in the years to come. It is like leaving a bad party early, only to find out that it got a whole lot better later. 

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