American comments about Turkey betray a lack of understanding of the European Union June 20, 2010Posted by Yilan in Turkey, US.
Tags: America, EU, Turkey
SHUT up, please, you are not helping. That, with respect, would be Charlemagne’s advice to America’s foreign-policy establishment, as its big guns nag the European Union into admitting Turkey swiftly, so as to anchor Turks to “the West”.
It is no pleasure to offer such advice. Successive American governments have been right to say that EU membership for Turkey—a dynamic, officially secular, youthful Muslim nation, sitting astride vital trade and energy routes—is in the strategic interests of Europe. The very process of negotiating membership has promoted reform inside Turkey. Americans are right that such advances are imperilled when leaders like Nicolas Sarkozy of France say Turks have no place in the EU. Americans are also right to point out that EU leaders have already pledged to admit Turkey if it meets a long list of legal requirements.
For all that, American voices accusing Europe of losing Turkey are guilty of oversimplification, and of ignoring what a big deal Turkish membership of the EU would be. The chorus comes from all sides. Visiting London last week, Robert Gates, the American defence secretary, was asked if recent Turkish actions over Gaza and Iran’s nuclear programme signalled a country “moving eastward”. If Turkey is heading east, Mr Gates mused, perhaps it is being pushed by some in Europe “refusing to give Turkey the kind of organic link to the West that Turkey sought.”
In a new paper for the Turkish arm of the Open Society Foundation, a liberal pressure group, the Democratic politician Howard Dean is blunter. If some EU leaders are proposing a mere “privileged partnership” for Turkey rather than full EU membership, says Mr Dean, it is because they are trying to assuage “increasing xenophobia” at home, or even making “a bald and shameful political attempt” to recruit far-right voters. Comparing European integration to the birth of America, Mr Dean generously offers some advice: if EU citizens are in a funk, the emergence of pan-European political parties and direct elections for an EU president would be “very helpful”.
From Yale, Walter Russell Mead, a foreign policy grandee, this month suggested Turkey should offer to give up immediate membership of the EU in exchange for a firmer pledge of eventual success, and, in the short term, a voice in EU decision-making.
Some of these gripes have a point. EU leaders like Mr Sarkozy and Angela Merkel of Germany are playing to their electoral bases when they question Turkey’s fitness to join, and many of their core supporters think Turks too foreign (or too Muslim) for the club. But the Turkey question cannot be reduced to racism.
For one thing, in urging Europe to fight any eastward drift in Turkish diplomacy, Mr Gates risks conflating EU membership with support for American policy in the Middle East. After all, several European nations strongly dislike the current Israeli government and are unconvinced by sanctions on Iran: the West is a complex block. Talk of immediate membership is nonsense: even Turkey’s friends know it will take at least ten years. Some areas are stalemated: the EU has frozen several chapters of the talks, and Turkey refuses to recognise Cyprus, an EU member state.
It is not only xenophobes who see the prospect of EU membership for Turkey as daunting. Joining today’s union is not like entering the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). American pundits might like to try the following two thought experiments, based on real-life EU instruments, and imagine how, with Mexico playing the part of Turkey, they would sell either to American voters.
First, imagine a NAFTA single market, with legal powers to ban congressional aid intended to stop a Detroit car factory moving to Mexico. If Congress persisted, NAFTA competition authorities could send the American government to be fined by Mexican, American and Canadian judges at the NAFTA court. The EU already does this.
Second, consider a NAFTA arrest warrant, based on “mutual recognition”, ie, the principle that a Mexican court’s ruling is as valid as one from Ohio. A New Yorker accused of a serious crime (a drunken rape in Cancún, say) could not fight extradition on grounds of poor Mexican police work, but would have to be shipped promptly to Mexico for trial. Because the EU arrest warrant already exists, Europeans have a right to fret about Turkish courts.
Americans who compare their two centuries of union to the six decades of European integration may think they are paying Europe a compliment. But it often comes across as condescension. Yes, it took America a while to form a federal government and issue a common currency, and America did fight a civil war. But European differences, whether of language, religion or history, go back millennia. Europe’s conflicts were not civil wars.
On numerous measures, Europe is more diverse than America. Per-capita wealth in Mississippi, the poorest state, is almost two thirds the national average. But the poorest EU member, Bulgaria, stands at 38% of the union average. Mississippi is also the most religious state: folks there are three times more likely to go to church weekly than in Vermont (the most secular state). Well, three quarters of Maltese and two thirds of Poles go to church once a week: just 3% of Danes do the same. Mississippians are less likely than Californians to think global warming is a “very serious” problem, by 56% to 73%. Try Estonia, where just 42% think climate change is “very serious”, compared to 84% of Greeks.
Some Americans are still unfazed. Come on Euro-Lilliputians, they cry, form a United States of Europe and elect yourself a president. They might like to ponder the kind of European issue big enough to win votes, continent-wide. Depressingly, opposing Turkey is one of the few that might do the trick.