If Turkey gets in...

European Business Review

ISSN: 0955-534X

Article publication date: 1 April 2000




Teimourian, H. (2000), "If Turkey gets in...", European Business Review, Vol. 12 No. 2. https://doi.org/10.1108/ebr.2000.05412bab.002



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2000, MCB UP Limited

If Turkey gets in...

If Turkey gets in...

Hazhir Teimourian

Hazhir Teimourian is a former columnist on The Times and writes on the Middle East. He comes from the Kurdish region of western Iran and has lived for 40 years in the United Kingdom.

Keywords: Turkey, European Union

When someone will one day write "The Decline and Fall of the European Community", they will probably start with the Helsinki summit of December 10, 1999. It was there that the "vision thing" appeared, deceptively, to have taken over completely the collective mind of European politicians and ousted any foresight or wisdom that still informed their deliberations. It was there that they set in motion a process whose logic dictates the eventual incorporation of the whole of Asia and Africa into the Community. It was there that they took their first leap into non-Europe by offering candidacy to a nation (or rather two nations, Turkey and Kurdistan) which would soon have a larger population than that of Germany and whose thousand years of Islam gave them a mentality wholly antagonistic to the Greco-Roman-Christian identity of the Europeans.

In Helsinki, the EU stopped being about the values that were worth cherishing, the values that had, for the past several centuries since the Renaissance, been the ideals of the new Europe and inspired the world: freedom, welfare, peace, humanity. On December 10, 1999, the EU began to aspire to become an empire, another Roman Empire, no less, that would this time not rest until it possessed the hydrocarbon reserves of the Arabs and the markets of China.

The trouble - and the hope - must be that it will not happen. When Turkey appears on the verge of admission by majority vote, a number of existing members are likely to panic and leave. That would give the rest a huge shock. The danger is that some of the benefits of membership - such as the free movement of labour - may be extended, to Ankara before admission, by stealth, as usual. That half-way house position would be the best gift that anyone could offer the extreme right. It would also make a last-minute rejection of Turkey pointless to contemplate.

The Helsinki summit

In the months before the Helsinki summit, the Turks began arrogantly to threaten "to wreck" the meeting if they were not offered formal membership. They said that they might cancel the stationing of American and British fighter aircraft in southern Turkey that patrol the skies of northern Iraq to protect the Kurds - as if the aircraft could not fly over Baghdad itself to reach the Kurds from the south - and they hinted that they would "flood" the community with illegal immigrants - as if they have ever taken serious measure to reduce the already flowing flood. They also said that they would never apply again, if they were rejected this time.

In the event, the leaders of the Community, who seem to like nothing better than easy conferences, gave in. Foreign policy chief Javier Solana flew to Ankara one night at the start of the meeting to offer a package of "conditions" on human rights, the Aegean dispute with Greece and Cyprus to the government there. The army generals, who make all the really important decisions, met immediately and found the package quite acceptable. It would not curb their supremacy and did not require any changes in their notorious practices.

The next day, there were celebrations all over the Turkish regions of Turkey. Mass-circulation newspapers ran headlines that said: "We Are Europeans!" and "The First Muslim Member!" The Times newspaper in London drew a cartoon that showed a Turkish leader offering a plate of sweets to the EU envoy. "Kurdish demise", he whispered!

As if proof were needed to show that Ankara did not take seriously the Europeans' demand for an improvement in its human rights record, offices of the Democracy Party (HADAP), the only legal party that calls for cultural rights for the Kurds, were raided a few days after the announcement and, ridiculously, a government circular was issued to schools to ban the use of the letters P and K in algebra in case they exposed children to the acronym of the banned Kurdish insurgents, the PKK. Even four Turkish girls between the ages of 12 and 14 were taken to court to face three years in prison for a peaceful demonstration in their school yard to ask for more teachers!

The size of the task

A look at the primary statistics of Turkey alone should be enough to frighten anyone contemplating its admission into the castle, for it is no little Cyprus, definitely.

With the third largest population in the whole of geographic Europe after Russia and Germany, Turkey's population is said by The Economist magazine in London to have just reached 64.6 million people. While the figure does not include several million clandestine residents, insurgents and outlaws, Turkey also has the second highest rate of growth of population in Europe, after Bosnia. More importantly, its rate of growth of population is itself growing. It jumped from 1.4 percent in 1996 to over 1.9 percent today. At the conservative rate of 2 percent a year, Turkey's overwhelmingly young population will exceed 96.1 million by 2020, far ahead of Germany's 79 million.

As for GDP per head, Turkey is expected to have a figure of $3,120 in 2000. This is over $8,000 below that of neighbouring Greece. Furthermore, since for the past 80 years of the Turkish republic, the largely Kurdish east has been deliberately starved of investment in order to destroy its distinct culture, the GDP per head there is among the lowest in the world, probably similar to Afghanistan's.

The long-term worries

Of far greater significance are the considerations that do not make statistics. Turkey has a secular, but corrupt and authoritarian, elite that lives under the thumb of the army, and an alienated, sulking, despairing majority that sees no alternative to either Islamist regression or Kurdish independence. Four prime ministers have over the years been executed, imprisoned or dismissed by a military top brass that sees the country as its virtually private fiefdom. Torture is routine in police stations all over the land for motoring offences, and members of parliament are enduring 15-year jail terms for swearing loyalty to the Turkish flag in Kurdish. At least one (blind) Turkish lawyer is in prison today for peacefully protesting against a constitution that, perhaps uniquely in the world, includes a category of crimes called "the crimes of thought".

Under such circumstances of repression and poverty, I challenge anyone to say that immediately upon admission, emigration from Turkey to western Europe would be under ten million people. The former German chancellor, Helmut Kohl, had for years vetoed Turkish membership on precisely this ground. With two million relatives already living in Germany, he realised that several million more immigrants from Turkey would immediately head for his country upon accession. With a Social Democrat government now in his place, that objection has given way to a complacency that is oblivious of the use that the Nazis made of the Jewish minority of their time.

The dangers now are even greater. Whereas the Jews of Germany were mostly of European descent and well assimilated into society, the Muslims of Europe today are both racially and culturally more distinct, much more vulnerable to being made scapegoats for any future crises.

Yet another consideration is that the inclusion of Turkey would give the new Europe over three thousand miles of zigzagging, mountainous frontier with the Caucasus, Iran, Iraq and Syria, making any future immigration policy dependent on the efficiency and the integrity of the Turkish civil service. Furthermore, with the bulk of Europe's heroin now passing through Turkey, with the proven involvement in the trade of the country's armed forces, organised crime in Europe would receive a huge boost and cause even greater suspicions towards Muslims.

Even if such a large and sudden immigration does not enable the extreme right in such EU members as Austrian and France to achieve power, the fear surely must be that the intake of millions of rural Turkish and Kurdish Muslims would - at the very least - make Europe a less liberal place. Ask Salman Rushdie. Do we really want many more artists to need round-the-clock armed protection? Is such a Europe free?

Surely Europe has become what it is today - or rather, what it was before Rushdie - because it fought and defeated the grip of organised religion over its politics over the past several centuries? Surely the influx of large numbers of dogmatic believers into post-religious Europe is a retrogressive act? Surely this is the reason why the Pope has in recent years begun to look upon Islam as an ally, at a time when his fellow Christians in the Islamic world come daily under increased restrictions?

What others think?

For the purpose of this article, I talked to three thinkers whose views I respect.

The first, Max van der Stoel, the former foreign minister of The Netherlands, unfortunately declined to comment. He said that the subject fell "outside the mandate" of his present job as the OSCE's high commissioner for national minorities.

It was understandable. Several years ago, when he said that Turkey was not suitable for membership of the EU because its culture differed from that of the existing members, he was given a hard time.

My second choice surprised me. David Owen, who heads New Europe, the pressure group set up to fight the possibility of Britain adopting the euro, said that he had changed his mind about Turkey. He said that he now wanted even the whole of the Russian Federation to be admitted to membership:

"As we enlarge out to 30 plus", he told me, "the Union will have to change even further, and I don't believe that it is possible to keep the integrative model of the original six. I actually welcome that".

When I asked whether the Union might scrap the freedom of movement of labour in the case of Turkey and other new members, Lord Owen said that he could not envisage it. It was "a fundamental part" of the whole thing. But he thought Turkey's admission would have to be phased in over a longer period.

By contrast, my third thinker, Timothy Garton Ash, the highly held "historian of the present" at Oxford University, believed that the freedom of movement of labour would have to be restricted even in the case of the Czechs and Poles, "let alone Romanians": "I have mixed feelings on Turkey", he said. "There's a huge amount of head-scratching going on. I know almost nobody except the German military who are unequivocally for it ... I regard the EU as a stepping stone to a liberal world order, so I don't believe that Europeanness in the cultural-historical sense is necessarily a primary criterion. But democracy and the rule of law are ... I've reluctantly come to the conclusion that the price of a clear no is higher than the price of a still rather unclear yes ... I take it that the price of saying no is that Turkey then turns away, not only from Europe, but also from its albeit rather indifferent attempts to live up to any standards of democracy or human rights or rule of law ... What the Turkish decision also exposes is one of the weaknesses of the EU, namely that it doesn't have civil rights, or rights at all, at its heart".

A tragedy for the Middle East

One might say that the Turkish decision also represents a tragedy for the Middle East. The Iranians have a saying for it. They say that "The Turks were the head of Asia. They left to become the arse of Europe!" The possibility now that Turkey may become a full member of the rich and prestigious European club will banish any hope that it might turn to its natural partners in the Middle East to form a common market of that region. Such countries as Iran, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Jordan would make a substantial block that could then extend painlessly into the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea regions. As the natural leader of that pack, Turkey would acquire a major economic punch in the world. Timothy Garton Ash agreed. "Ideally", he told me, "I'd like to see a dozen European Unions in the world". That dream has been killed off for the time being.

My own hope now

My own hope now is that a substantial body of moderate opinion might organise itself in Europe over the next few years to warn our leaders to desist from taking any more steps towards the admission of Turkey. No-doubt those who hope secretly that further expansion to the east will make the Union so unwieldy and so crime-ridden that the freedom of movement of labour will have to be abolished soon - and pave the way for the Union's eventual dismantling - will push even harder for expansion to the east. (While I write these lines, Belgium announces that it has "temporarily" suspended its membership of the Schengen agreement, because it has become "a haven for asylum seekers".) But surely there are also millions more people inside the Union who believe in it as an already successful economic and political gathering.

Of course, Islamists and the extreme left will unite in crying "discrimination" against Muslims. But - to quote a former editor of mine on The Times, "You can never satisfy that unholy lot". They would not rest until all the gates of the Union were flung fully open to the remaining one billion Muslims outside who - quite reasonably - aspire to life here. That any significant opening of the gate would end what remains of the freedom of expression in Europe and also boost the chances of the extreme right gaining power somewhere, would not matter to the protestors.

It is not too late to say no to Turkey. The "price to pay" would actually be a service to Mankind.

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