FT foreign affairs columnist urges EU leaders to end hypocrisy, be honest with Turkey
European Union leaders should put an end to insincerity in their relations with candidate country Turkey and instead honestly discuss how to proceed with Ankara's accession talks, wrote Gideon Rachman, the chief foreign affairs commentator for Britain's Financial Times, in an opinion piece yesterday. Stating that Turkey's importance to the West can be gauged by how both US President Barack Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron gave important speeches either to Turkish deputies or business leaders in Ankara within months of taking office, Rachman continued: "The west cares about Turkey because it is a hinge state between east and west and a rare example of a majority Muslim state that is also a secular democracy. Turkey is a neighbor of both Russia and Iran, and is also a member of NATO. It has a rapidly growing and dynamic economy." Touching on Western concern over how Turkey recently voted against new UN sanctions on Iran as well as its severely strained relations with Israel, Rachman said, "But it is Turkey's faltering effort to join the European Union that has come to symbolize the country's uncertain relationship with the West." Urging EU leaders to take a sincere stance on Turkey, Rachman said, " 'Talking Turkey' is meant to mean speaking frankly and getting to the heart of the matter. But, in the European Union, 'talking Turkey' has become a synonym for double-talk and evasiveness." Stating that Turkey still wants to join the EU despite opposition from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy, Rachman suggested that Turkey's EU accession talks should be continued on a new basis: "So perhaps it is time really to 'talk Turkey' – and to be frank. It would indeed be a wonderful thing if Turkey were to join the EU. But if that is to happen, Turkish membership has to be agreed on a new basis. It cannot involve total free movement of people between Turkey and the rest of the EU the rules are clear. Eventually, all citizens of the EU have to enjoy equal rights. It is those rules that will have to change if Turkish accession to the EU is ever to become a reality. Creating special rules for the Turks would be denounced as unfair, and even racist. But, as long as Turkish membership raises the prospect of mass emigration to the rest of the EU, it will be impossible to sell it to western European voters." Citing how mass migration from new member countries to central Europe has become a political issue in countries such as France, Germany, Britain and the Netherlands, where the governments have tightened anti-immigration measures, Rachman said, "The surge in the vote for the radical, anti-immigration right in the recent Dutch elections demonstrated that mass migration, particularly from Muslim countries such as Turkey, is unpopular enough to transform domestic politics in some western European countries. In the face of all this evidence, European politicians would simply be irresponsible to press ahead with negotiations to bring Turkey into the European Union without addressing the issue of immigration. In the long run, they will not do it. In the short run, they take refuge in double-talk and hypocrisy." Saying that it would be a gamble to try to revive the Turkish-EU conversation while finally facing up to the question of immigration, Rachman explained, "The Turks might walk away in a huff. But even without complete free movement of people, Turkey would still have a great deal to gain from joining the EU. As the second most populous nation in the union – and perhaps soon the largest – it would have a huge weight in the framing of European law, and a big delegation at the European Parliament. Turkey would also get the financial and structural aid that the EU lavishes on poorer, new members. It would have unfettered access to the European single market, a big say in the framing of EU foreign policy and the legal and diplomatic protections that come with EU membership. Under the new deal Turkish citizens would not get the automatic right to work anywhere in the EU; but they could expect travel to become significantly easier." Rachman concluded by saying, "Membership of the EU, without complete free movement of people, is a deal Turkey might choose to reject or accept. But, at least it is an offer that could be made in good faith."