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Time for Turkey to back away from the EU 15 mars 2007

Posted by Acturca in Turkey-EU / Turquie-UE.

San Francisco Chronicle (USA), Friday, March 9, 2007, p. B-11      Türkçe

Oktay Yenal *

Turkey should withdraw from its negotiations to join the European Union. The EU seeks to create a large bloc of nations united by the principles of peaceful coexistence and human rights. How appropriate it would be for the EU to reach out to the Turkish Republic, whose modernization under the reforms of its founder, Kemal Ataturk, offers a path to 1.2 billion Muslims for the development of secular, democratic societies. However, nationalist concerns on the continent have trumped the objectives under which the EU was established.

Consequently, Turkey’s efforts to join the EU, if not all her relations with the EU, have soured almost to the point of no return. Although most Turks would still like to see their country a full member of the EU, it is now clear to them that the EU doesn’t want them, on economic, cultural and historical grounds. The time has come to back away, gracefully.

There is no doubt that both sides, and the world, would profit in the long run if Turkey became a member of the EU. For the Turks, the greatest benefit would be the acceleration of their country’s modernization. A more immediate bonus would be the opportunity to coordinate Turkey’s international policies within a union dedicated to democratic principles.

For the EU, Turkey’s entry would expand the group of secular countries dedicated to universal human rights to include a Muslim nation, while establishing a bridge to the non-Christian world of Asia and the Middle East. But as it stands now, if Turkey were to join the EU, it would not receive the same benefits that members enjoy.

EU countries, suffering from widespread unemployment, have signaled their intention to deny Turkish workers freedom of movement throughout Europe. Nor would large and relatively poor Turkey receive financial aid in the same proportion as less affluent members have in the past. It is often hinted that these privileges might be extended later, but that seems unlikely. Analyses indicate that Europe’s economic problems may become worse. Also, while there might be initial benefit to EU countries from the contributions of young Turkish migrants to European social security funding, when these workers retired, they would increase the deficits in Europe’s entitlement accounts.

Moreover, the negotiations are undercutting Turkey’s position on Cyprus. EU membership requires unanimous consent, so Turkey cannot afford to offend either Athens or Nicosia. Thus, we are forestalled from acting to protect the interests of the Turkish population of the island, no matter what arbitrary measures the Papadopoulos regime might ad opt. The major EU powers have placed the onus to resolve the Cyprus issue entirely on Turkey, ignoring the fact that they admitted Cyprus into the Union while the island was still divided de facto into two sovereign states. They have also conveniently forgotten their promise to ease the economic isolation of the Turkish north after Turkish Cypriots supported, and Greek Cypriots rejected, the Annan plan for reunification.

EU negotiators are demanding that Turkey settle its problems with Kurds and other Turkish minorities in accordance with abstract criteria that bear no relation to our history and culture. Moreover, ethnic Kurds have reached the highest positions in the Turkish bureaucracy and government, while European governments seem unable to provide equal opportunity and other basic rights to their Muslim citizens. This double standard is evidence that « orientalist » patterns of thought, and nostalgia for the imperialist past, permeate a European culture inherently condescending toward « the East. » This, in turn, raises doubts that Europeans are psychologically prepared to accept Turkish Muslims as equals.

The best and most honest arrangement would be for Turkey to establish a special agreement with the EU based on mutual goodwill and understanding. This could include strengthening economic ties within the European Common Market, of which Turkey is already a full member, as well as harmonizing our longer term social and political perspectives. If Turkey takes the initiative in this direction, it will both clear the air and lead to a partnership that works for both sides.

* Oktay Yenal is a retired Turkish economist who headed the World Bank office in New Delhi and served as the bank’s chief economist for the Asia region.


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