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January 01, 2013, Tuesday

Turkey-EU: A proposal from Britain?

The British historian and author Norman Stone answered a few questions in The Independent last week.

 About Turkey's eventual accession to the European Union, he said, “If the Turks really want EU membership, they can take ours,” meaning that the United Kingdom should leave the EU and the latter must fill the gap with Turkey.

Maybe the most critical part of his answer was “if the Turks really want the membership.” That means Stone, as many other people, including in Turkey, is not at all convinced that Ankara really desires to become a member of the union. He has also emphasized that the Cyprus issue is used as a pretext by Europe to rebuff Turkey. This is a way of saying that Turkey is perfectly entitled to become a member state, but the deadlock in Cyprus is not helping. One may ask why Turkey has still not extended its customs union to Cyprus; but then one also has to ask why the Greek part of the island has been accepted into the union before a comprehensive settlement of the Cyprus issue and why the EU hasn't kept its promises to Northern Cyprus.

It is indisputable that the Cyprus problem constitutes a serious obstacle in the Turkish-EU relationship, but it is not only Turkey's fault if the issue still remains unresolved.

Stone has also underlined the visa problem the Turkish citizens are facing when they want to travel to Europe. The EU has very strict visa regulations concerning Turks, even though Turkey is officially a candidate country. However, getting a UK visa is even more difficult to get than a Schengen visa. While most EU countries don't ask for a visa when you hold a special (green) passport, the UK does. It is true what Stone says, however, “The EU's visa regime humiliates the Turks, as if they were all drug smugglers.” Visa regulations have not only practical but also symbolic importance for bilateral relations. They either reinforce or harm mutual trust.

A few years ago, one of my students who decided to continue his Ph.D. studies in France did not want to leave his pregnant Persian cat behind. He undertook all the necessary paperwork and managed to get permission. But the airport police in France insisted on putting the cat into the X-ray machine to see if she was indeed pregnant. Maybe the breed of the poor cat was responsible for this extra care.

Stone says “if the Turks really want,” but we can reverse the question, “Do Europeans want Turkey to join the EU?” We, unfortunately, don't have a clear answer to this question. Maybe that's why Stone has proposed that Turkey replace the UK within the union. If that happens, some countries will be quite happy to see Britain leaving the union, but then they will have to cope with Turkish membership.

Of course, Stone's main motivation was not to discuss Turkey's accession; he is rather interested in Britain getting rid of the EU burden. It is true that most of his fellow countrymen are getting progressively allergic to EU regulations. They dislike the idea of centralization, as they believe Brussels is corrupt and incompetent. Besides, they are worried of the growing German influence over EU affairs. They have been discussing this for a while, even at the governmental level, about leaving the EU.

It is not sure if leaving Europe will help Britain to overcome the financial crisis more easily, but it will at least no longer have to share the burden of the bankrupt member states.From this perspective, telling Turkey to replace the UK may not be seen as a good idea. It is like saying “Turkey is now prosperous enough, so they can and must share the burden.”

Nonetheless, if Turkey really wants to join the EU, it has to display its will to contribute to Europe's well being. Maybe Stone has pointed out an argument that we may use.

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