Monday, October 25, 2010

‘Healthy man of sick Europe’

As what the Economist notes as a “welcome rise” of Turkey in the economic and international policy field becomes increasingly visible, the state of confusion within the EU about Turkey is more clearly exposed.

It is an interesting type of development. In the first half of the now ending decade, what pushed Turkey ahead in terms of substantial change was the enormous dynamic of the prospect of membership in the union, and despite the quickly fading desire in Europe to accept its progress as an indication to speed up membership talks, Turkey accelerates its normalization nevertheless.

What is wrong then, and where? It is obvious that the main denominator for things having taken a negative turn is the lack of leadership within the EU. Its current state is of aimlessness, fatigue over political direction, shortsighted foreign policy and weakening coordination of economic management. What suffers most because of these factors is the enlargement policy.

What today’s Turkey -- as opposed to the Turkey of, say, 2002 -- sees in the EU of today is a picture of a destiny much less desired. As today’s Turkish society is more and more involved in a peaceful debate on the role of religion in politics and developing modalities over dealing fairly with diversity, etc., the old continent is sending out signals of increasing intolerance for its diversity and suffers from a growing extremism in many corners within.

A leader of a powerful member declares that the integration policies of its immigrants and new citizens failed fully (thus, spreading fear rather than hope), as the emerging far-right finds momentum to expand and to instrumentalize Turkey’s accession prospect as a political weapon to build a base against Islam, deliberately ignoring its democratic, civilian and European attributes.

It is apparent that the lack of decisive leadership will help revive the old ghosts of Europe, as the xenophobic, selfish, small-minded far-rightists from the Netherlands, Germany, Austria, Belgium, Denmark, Sweden, Bulgaria, etc., will push for a referendum in order to block Turkey altogether from the EU.

When the issue of direct trade (along with forgotten promise by the EU) with north Cyprus comes again to the discussion within the European Parliament (EP), the picture becomes even more worrisome. When the Legal Affairs Committee of the EP, giving in to massive Greek Cypriot pressure, decides against it, even the socialists choose to join the vote.

There is still (little) hope that it may be rejected by the Presidents’ Conference, but the real issue is the following: The mood, reflected by the vote, tells Turkey and Turkish Cypriots that the EU is now entirely controlled by a membership, whose desire is to pit the EU against the UN, in order to make the latter dysfunctional in reaching a settlement on the island.

Had the decision been reversed, it would have paved the way for Turkey to open its ports to Cypriot vessels and aircraft, and sped up both the negotiations for a solution on the island, and membership for Turkey in the union. The difference between the Europeans’ choice at the committee level is that simple.

The paradox is, it may add to the determination in Turkey to go further with the reform process, even if today’s profoundly confused EU may be even more stuck with its counterproductive Cyprus policies. In the end, who to blame for the historic folly will become much easier.

The fact of the matter is, Turkey, once labeled the “sick man of Europe” (not anywhere else, but Europe) has now managed to replace “sick” with “healthy,” and is seen with respect or envy by members under a huge burden of economic crisis.

Let me leave the word to the latest analysis of the Economist, whose recent, extremely sober article on Turkey is a devastating critique of an increasingly myopic continent.

“Negotiations (with the EU) have formally been going on for over five years. No country that has begun such talks has ever failed to be offered membership. But the leaders of France, Germany, Austria and the Netherlands seem dead set against Turkish entry, as is much of their public opinion. The unresolved Cyprus dispute seems a near-insuperable roadblock. Yet if the EU chooses to exclude its own China, it will be turning away the fastest-growing economy in its neighborhood. It will also lose any hope of influencing the region to its east. At a time when many Europeans fret about being ignored in the world, this would be a historic mistake.

“ ... Turkey is heading in a good direction. It remains a shining (and rare) example in the Muslim world of a vibrant democracy with the rule of law and a thriving free-market economy. Much though Western leaders would like to turn the argument into one about Turkey, the real question is for them. Are Americans and Europeans prepared to accept Turkey for what it is: a Muslim democracy, with a different culture and diplomatic posture, but committed to economic and political liberalism? This newspaper hopes the answer is yes.”

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