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Thesis & Antithesis

A critical perspective on energy, international politics & current affairs

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Location: Washington, D.C.

greekdefaultwatch@gmail.com Natural gas consultant by day, blogger on the Greek economy by night. Trained as an economist and political scientist. I believe in common sense and in data, and my aim is to offer insight written in language that is clear and convincing.

03 October 2005

Turkey talks

October 3 was supposed to be a celebration date—a time when east would meet west, as Turkey’s journey to join the EU would finally enter its final, and most difficult, phase. Instead it has become an embarrassment as the EU tries to decide whether full membership will be the only option offered to Turkey or whether the end point could lead to some other kind of union.

At first glance, this seems a sensible talking point; if anything, European leaders have recently discovered the peril of neglecting the sentiments of their people: to listen to their concerns—and many express those in regards to Turkey—seems only fair. After all, popular support for Turkey joining the EU is low (link).

But low public support for Turkey’s entry is hardly the whole story. The real question is not whether people support Turkey’s entry; what is more important to ask is, how much of the opposition to Turkey’s entry can be explained by Turkey’s current state of affairs (human rights violations, low standard of living, etc.) and how much has to do with Turkey’s underlying characteristics: most of all, Turkey being a Muslim country. In other words, can we say that opposition today will necessarily mean opposition tomorrow?

A second question is, how much of the popular opposition to Turkey’s entry has to do with the current realities in Europe—specifically, the fact that Europe’s economies are stagnant, increasingly inward looking and very fearful of immigration? And how much is related to the waning support for the European experiment in general?

These questions are not meant to digress. But they raise an important question—is 2005 a representative sample year for the EU to use as a benchmark? My suspicion is that it is not. A wealthier and more democratic Turkey and a wealthier and more confident Europe might find union easier to imagine, even if the fear of Islam will forever hang over European heads.

Which brings me to my final point: Turkey’s entry will not be decided for another decade. While it is hypocritical to open membership talks if membership is not what the EU leaders are willing to give, the decision to admit Turkey will not be theirs anyway. It is likely that populist leaders will call for referenda to ratify Turkey’s entry—that’s when Europe will speak. A constitutional-type scenario, where leaders are sent back to the drawing board after failed ratification, is likely for Turkey. That’s when a non-membership union can be contemplated.

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