Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Talking Turkey

(Sorry, my subbing skills seem to have gone out the window today - a truly terrible title...)

Voting has been postponed on extending Turkey's association agreement with the EU to the ten new member states, although the European Parliament has voted that accession negotiations can start on October 3rd as planned. Just one more bit of confusion with the whole Turkish thing which has been knocking around for years - and yet another excuse for wildly differing interpretations of what the hell's going on.

So, is Europe's attitude to Turkey hypocritical, as one letter in the Guardian has it today? Is the Armenian Genocide question just an excuse, disguising latent racism and Islamophobia, as the Guardian's second correspondant would seem to have it? Is it fair to bring up something from 1915, when the Turkish Republic was only founded in 1923, or should the focus be on current concerns, like alleged stifling of human rights and ongoing accusations of torture? (Not that Britain has any right to complain about torture these days, thanks to our delightful Home Secretary's love of sleep deprivation, sexual humiliation and the extraction of fingernails with pliers... This may be why our support of Turkish membership threatens to cause so many problems with our European partners.)

As Turkey starts dropping hints it may give up on EU entry, sparking fears of a shift towards a more Islamic polity, there's a good, if fairly lengthy, look at Turkey's relationship with Europe over at the New York Times which helps point out some of the complexities, while the Economist has a superb intro to the problems of Turkish membership which may be worth a look first:

"Turkey first applied to join what was then the EEC in 1959. The two sides signed an association agreement in 1963 (implicitly accepting that Turkey could be a candidate); a customs union in 1995; and the EU officially accepted Turkey as a candidate for entry in 1999. Turkey has, in short, been asking to join Europe for so long that its application is starting to look old and moth-eaten—so much so that some diplomats and politicians seem to have forgotten the strategic reasons for entertaining it...

"Yet rejecting Turkey's bid for membership would do little to solve the difficulties its application raises. The budget needs to be reformed whether Turkey is in or out. Europe's economies must create more jobs whether or not Turkish workers get free movement of labour (which they probably won't). Popular dissatisfaction with the EU exists regardless of Turkish membership. A majority of Europeans say they are undecided about Turkey, rather than actively hostile."
Count me among the undecided. No matter what the outcome, there could be serious problems. Full EU membership, we get the introduction of a vast country with a vast, largely impoverished population, who would have full rights to live and work anywhere in the EU, and borders on some of the most unstable and dangerous nations in the world. The proposed "privileged partnership" and we risk fostering resentment and feelings that Europe is patronising our semi-European neighbour, which could help revive nationalist and/or radical Islamist political groups within the country, destabilising the one (relatively) sane and stable Islamic country we've got on our side. End all talk of membership, and the likelihood of a shift towards radical Islamist politics is even more likely, with all the concurrent increase in security risks that would threaten.

Is there a way out? Who knows? All I do know is that this seems a very odd area for Labour to suddenly rediscover the concept of "principle"...

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