A book review by Henrik Raeder Clausen:
Turkey in the European Union: A Bridge Too Far
By Philip Claeys & Koen Dillen
Published by Uitgeverij Egmont, Belgium
Public debate about admitting Turkey as a full member of the European Union has been vague and late, the details of the matter as well as major decisions being taken by the European Commission and the heads of state. This book sets out to set the record straight, and despite occasional flaws does so with a vengeance.
Admittedly, the foreword by Taki Theodoracopulos almost put me off. I hate being served my conclusions in advance, in the bluntest of words. But the subject is important, and proceeding proved richly rewarding.
The book is structured in eleven chapters by subject, and is actually quite brief, just under 150 pages ahead of 70 pages of notes and documentation.
It sets out in chapter one describing the process that, surprisingly, granted Turkey candidate status for the European Union at the summit in Helsinki 1999. This was based on promises stemming back from 1963. In context, public debate or assessment of Turkish adherence to the Copenhagen Criteria were deemed unnecessary. At this point, one has to admire the quality of the Turkish diplomacy: Shifting instantly between the finest politesse and outright rudeness, the Turks are extremely good of getting what they want. Their European counterparts do not deserve this kind of praise.
A central issue is debated in chapter 2: “Is Turkey a European country?” From an EU enlargement point of view, the required answer to this question is ‘Yes’, or the enlargement process with Turkey would be illegal right from the outset. The authors start out well, but then head off into constitutional matters rather than historical background, which would be natural at this point.
Then, in chapter 3: “Turkey is not a European-style Democracy”, the authors come out with all guns blazing. Particular damning is the analysis from the US Department of State, which with no undue hesitation describes a series of severe deficiencies in the Turkish society.
The chapter moves from strength to strength, on points regarding freedom of press, women’s role, torture, the Kurds, the Armenians and finally the oft-criticized article 301 that makes ‘insulting Turkishness’ a criminal offence. All documented from human rights or government sources who, in contrast with similar EU documents, do not attempt to sugar-coat the details. The US Department of State is oft-quoted, and it is obvious that president George W. Bush speaks against the opinion of his own foreign policy office when he declares that Turkey fulfils the Copenhagen criteria.
One may wonder, at this point, what the motivation of the US government really is?
At every crucial point regarding Turkey, where the Europeans have resisted the idea, the Turkish government has — successfully — requested the US government to intervene on their behalf. This, presumably, is what is known as ‘leadership’, forging ahead with unpopular ideas in spite of resistance from allies and the general public. But leadership short of democratic legitimacy belongs in the realm of fascism, not of democracy.
Chapter 4 deals with economical aspects of a potential Turkish membership. It challenges the notion of Turkey as a functioning market economy (few have discussed this before), and details the expenses Turkish membership would cost the existing EU members and citizens. Since these are purely economical issues, they usually don’t cause much discussion. After all, who would protest against billions of taxpayer Euro being transferred to Turkey? Well, Claeys and Dillen do.
Chapter 5 deals with something that few like to mention — that Turkish membership would open the doors to further mass immigration from Turkey to EU countries. Given the difficulties, not least in Germany, with integrating the current Turkish immigrants, this issue should be a major cause of concern in Europe.
A brief chapter 6 touches the thorny issue of why the EU elite refuse to hear the public opinion on the matter. How could Turkish membership be legitimate without the consent of the European public at large? The European elite does not seem to be concerned about this, or how the widening gap between themselves and the public opinion might damage democracy as such.
Chapter 7, on the motivations of the groups that support Turkish accession, is arguably the weakest in the book. The support of the left, in particular, seems mysterious, as the left traditionally has been strong on human right issues. The book, unfortunately, meanders off into lightly substantiated guesswork on a subject that would demand much more detailed and stringent analysis.
Chapter 8 gets back on the track of solid arguments by looking at the role of Islam in Turkey, and how it is increasingly dubious that Turkey will ever genuinely respect non-Islamic minorities, or be able to separate religion and politics. Alarming quotes from Turkish PM Erdogan, President GÃ¼l and others makes the point: It’s not directly proven that the AK Party or the government is Islamistic, but the details are suspicious enough to make it clear that we can’t trust it at face value. The EU Commission, in particular Commissioner of Enlargement Olli Rehn, does not seem to understand this, as demonstrated for example by its interference in the recent constitutional case against AKP.
Chapter 9 concerns itself with the Armenian genocide and others, as well as the ethnic cleansings that took place before and after the founding of the modern Turkish state, as documented by Taner Akcam and others. This problem is particular unsettling, for it concerns the very identity of the Turkish state and Turkishness. Debating this is punishable in Turkey under article 301, and, as in the case of the late Hrant Dink, can have serious consequences. The Turkish attitude to the Armenian genocide can, in principle, be compared to a hypothetical situation where Germany would officially justify the Holocaust by denigrating Jews, ban dissenting opinion, and praise the architects of the Holocaust as national heroes. Respect for and protection of minorities is an explicit item in the Copenhagen Criteria. The Armenians are not getting either.
Chapter 9 also includes this memorable quote, adopted by the European Parliament in 1987:
The European Parliament believes that the refusal by the present Turkish Government to acknowledge the genocide against the Armenian people committed by the Young Turk government, its reluctance to apply the principles of international law in differences of opinion with Greece, the maintenance of Turkish occupation forces in Cyprus and the denial of the existence of the Kurdish question, together with the lack of true parliamentary democracy and the failure to respect individual and collective freedoms, in particular freedom of religion, in that country are insurmountable obstacles to consideration of the possibility of Turkey’s accession to the Community.
Not a single of these problems issues had been solved when Turkey was granted candidate status. Even now, at the end of 2008, no solid solution seems in sight for even a single of these problems.
A brief but efficient chapter 10 deals with the Turkish occupation of Cyprus. Rich in historical detail and tearing apart the UN “Annan Plan” on the way, this chapter alone — like several others — should cause the Turkish accession process to be suspended. Turkey doesn’t even recognize the Republic of Cyprus. One may wonder what the Turkish motivations for refusing this might be — and wonder still more why the EU does not make explicit recognition of Cyprus a condition for Turkish accession. An implicit recognition by way of the customs union just doesn’t cut it. Let Turkey make it clear, openly and unconditionally, that it respects the Republic of Cyprus as a sovereign nation.
One issue, unfortunately, does not have a chapter: the Kurdish situation. The Kurdish problem has from the outset largely been written out of the EU-Turkey equation. But in a book like this, it does deserve more extensive coverage than the causal mentions it gets in other contexts.
Chapter 11 rounds up the book by looking at some principles, and some historical issues that one would have expected earlier on. Opinion polls showing rapid increase in European opposition to the project are quoted, polls that obviously makes no impression on the European Commission. A roundup on page 149 of the fundamental criteria for accession makes it clear, once again, that Turkey does not qualify, and is not even close to doing so.
Which leads us to another interesting — and troubling — aspect of this book:
Even though it does not set out to be so, it becomes a profound criticism of the European Union as such, and the Commission in particular. The European Union is founded on noble principles of human rights, democracy and freedom, and touted as being the staunch defender of these. When these noble principles get bogged down by Byzantine negotiations, vital decisions being taken away from the scrutiny of the press and the public, how can we trust the elite to represent the Europeans in a democratic fashion? When statements, speeches and progress reports get filled with duplicity and avoidance of the facts on the ground, how can we have confidence in the EU civil servants accurately and loyally addressing crucial issues of paramount importance to the Union and its citizens?
As former French President ValÃ©ry Gisgard d’Estaing said regarding a possible Turkish membership: “It will be the end of the European Union.”
The end of the Union, should it comes about, would come not from external causes, but rather from corruption of the ideals of the Union itself. Turkey will be Turkey, regardless of what the EU will do, but the legitimacy of the European Union rests, ultimately, on its citizens haven confidence in its actions and the willingness of the Union to courageously defend its fundamental ideals.
This book, despite occasional weaknesses and editing that could be better, launches a concerted and serious challenge to the EU-Turkey process. It raises many issues that should have been tackled well before Turkey was granted EU candidacy status. Given the details, it would seem unlikely that Turkey will suddenly turn around from three years of reform neglect and show clear sincerity for its Europeanization process. Should that happen, fine. If not, what we need from the European Union would be a clear, uncompromising willingness to stand for European values, even at the expense of its empire-building process with Turkey.
The title, “A Bridge Too Far”, is apt. Turkey has been touted as a ‘bridge’ to the Middle East, to Iran, Iraq, Syria etc. One may wonder, of course, what the point would be in extending the borders of the Union to these obviously problematic countries. That would look like more trouble than benefit.
But even more in a metaphorical sense, the project of admitting Turkey increasingly looks like the ill-fated attempt of the Allies to gain a swift victory over Germany in WWII. Mired in problems that refuse to go away, the European Commission will have to either show swift and decisive gains, or abandon their ill-fated mission in face of the stiff reform resistance shown by the Turkish society.