Sorry, Mr Gul, but Turkey won’t be joining the EU any time soon

It’s not going to happen. That’s what everyone says who knows anything about the subject that we’re going to be hearing quite a bit about this week: Turkey’s membership of the EU.  I’ve heard it from someone who works for William Hague, from a political editor, from a diplomat. Which makes this week’s state visit by the Turkish president, Abdullah Gul, on his three-day state visit to Britain seem pretty well beside the point.

The British government is right behind Turkey’s bid for EU membership, no country more so. David Cameron and William Hague have if anything been even more effusive in their support than Tony Blair and Jack Straw before them — the duo who managed to ensure that Turkey became officially a candidate nation for EU membership. But get the back office boys talking and this is what they’ll tell you: France will veto it. The French have mooted the idea of a referendum on Turkey joining, which is tantamount to saying they’ll say no, by a huge margin — and Germany won’t wear it. At least not while Angela Merkel’s alive. (During a visit to Croatia recently, she hinted strongly that after its accession, that would be the end of EU expansion for the time being.) So why is the British government so much in favour? And why shouldn’t it be?

To answer the first one first, favouring Turkey’s membership of the EU has an awful lot to recommend it for a government which has engaged in conflict in Islamic countries. It’s a cheap way of showing you’re pro-Islamic or, rather, pro-moderate Islam, even if you backed the US in Afghanistan. The gist of that argument, as expressed by the Prime Minister repeatedly, is that Turkey is a moderate Islamic country and we want to encourage moderate Islam as opposed to the other sort. So, you get brownie points for being positive about Muslims in Europe, which obviously plays well with your own constituency here. And that argument holds despite disturbing evidence that Turkey’s moderation in terms of Islam isn’t by any means a given, including under Mr Gul’s Islamist AKP, Justice and Development party. A poll conducted this summer by Istanbul’s Bahçe?ehir university suggested that 48 per cent of Turks wouldn’t want a Christian as a neighbour; more than half wouldn’t want Jews.

Added to which, there is no doubt that Turkey is strategically important; it’s a player in the Syrian conflict and has exercised real influence there recently. Its economy is growing, though before we get too excited about the growth rate of 6.6 per cent, we would do well to remember that Ireland’s was seven per cent during the boom years — which were followed by the crash.

But the argument against Turkish membership isn’t that it’s Islamic, it’s that it’s not European. Three per cent of its land mass is on the European side of the Bosphorus, which means that 97 per cent of it is geographically in Asia. That’s an awful lot of Asia getting into Europe on the back of Turkey’s European tail. And unless you’re someone like Denis MacShane, the former Europe minister, who thinks geography is neither here nor there when it comes to EU membership, that’s the decisive consideration. If you’re keen on including countries with large or majority Muslim populations in the EU, by the way, there are some bona fide states which are squarely in Europe and have a large percentage of Muslims, chiefly Albania, Kosovo and Bosnia. Get them into Europe if you like. I did raise this issue when a Turkish government delegation was at Chatham House; one woman responded that these things were fluid and Turkey could qualify by dint of its former imperial reach. By that logic, Britain should be a member of the Arab League.

The other argument, to my mind decisive, is Turkey’s size. Just now its population is 76 million, and it could reach 97 million, according to the UN, by 2050. Just let those numbers sink in. EU membership means the citizens of member states have the right to work and live anywhere within the EU. In other words, 76 million people could gravitate anywhere they liked within the EU, including Britain, within seven years of joining. There is a Turkish community of about half a million people here, including Turkish Cypriots; naturally people gravitate towards countries where they can live with others from the same culture. The effect on Germany would be catastrophic, obviously, which doesn’t seem to worry the Brits a jot, but the influx of an unknown number of Turks here would have a profoundly destabilising effect. There’s already a petition before parliament, which got 120,000 signatures, arguing that the population shouldn’t be allowed to reach 70 million as a consequence of immigration: well you can kiss goodbye to that aspiration if you include in the EU a country potentially larger than Germany.

Of course Turkey’s a strategically and economically important country. It just doesn’t belong in the EU, which doesn’t preclude giving it something like a first-cousin status within the European Economic Area in terms of trade. But the arguments against aren’t enough to dent the extraordinary coalition behind its accession: everyone from the Telegraph to the Tablet, from Boris Johnson to Harriet Harman. What they’ve all got in common as I say, is a commitment to looking good in terms of outreach to Islam — with the honourable exception of Mr Johnson who may be influenced by his Turkish forebears.

But so far as the government is concerned, they’ve got their fingers crossed behind their backs even while they’re talking loudest about really wanting Turkey in, not out. They know it’s safe to talk, because so long as there’s a chance the issue will be put to the French people, it hasn’t a prayer. Which makes, I’d say, their position that much worse: not just wrong but hypocritical.

The Spectator | Melanie McDonagh  | 21st November 2011

4 Responses to Sorry, Mr Gul, but Turkey won’t be joining the EU any time soon

  1. The point about asia in my view is not as significant as the fact that the governing and hugely successful AKP party in Turkey are islamists. They say it openly: democracy for them is nothing but a means of advancing political islam. There is a division in political islam between those who favour terror and those who want to use democracy to introduce sharia and then effectively abolish fundamental rights for gays, women etc but there exist intensive cooperation between those two streams of thought. It is a horrible naive error to believe that it is wise to reward the AKP by giving them another tool to introduce their vision of a clerical state that rids itself of the secular past in the tradition of Atatürk by allowing them in the EU. Let’s never forget that democracy without secularism is worth nothing. The most brutal terror regime in the world – the iranian mullocracy has came to power through a democratic vote. The Gaza based terror group Hamas came to power through a democratic vote. We must not fund these movements or they will use our money and institutions to further the agenda of political Islam.

  2. Philip

    Gotta agree with cheerfulcoyote above. Make excuses all you like – but I just don’t see how allowing yet another muslim country enter the EU makes the EU more secular…

  3. I would say, in fact, that we should accept Turkey into the EU. I think it is a valid argument that it’s good to make friends with more secular/moderate Islamic nations. And I do think Turkey is largely that, regardless of what pew polls sometimes suggest.

    I think there’s a tendency within the Islamic World for polls to return findings that are heavily weighted towards the extremist end of the scale. For me, it’s the equivalent of football fans down the pub pretending to be more into their team than they really are, or the UK public insisting that they’re CofE (‘Are you really, though? REALLY?’).

    For the religious, it’s better to err on the side of fanaticism, at least when asked directly about it! Especially when the invisible sky-man could be taking notes…

    But that’s just, like, my opinion, man…

  4. Bernard VB

    Honestly I would rather see Israel as part of the EU then Turkey. It is more advanced, shares a larger part of our “culture” (comes from being prosecuted her for about 2000 years) and above all has a bigger portion of secularism minded citizens. It would stabilize the region by giving Israel more security witch could convince it to make more concessions.
    Now I’m not saying let them join there not in our geographic sphere witch for a common market system seems quite important to me.
    And of course there is the problem of the pro palestine lobby.

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