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ANKARA: Would Turkey be in the `winners' club' or `losers' pit'

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  • ANKARA: Would Turkey be in the `winners' club' or `losers' pit', Turkey
    May 31 2009

    Would Turkey be in the `winners' club' or `losers' pit' by 2023?
    A `Devil's Advocate' perspective

    If I could look into my crystal ball to predict who the winners and
    losers of the global system would be by 2023 (the centenary year
    marking the founding of the Turkish Republic), do not expect me to
    give a rosy picture of the future for today's 27-state European Union
    (EU). The current recession will no doubt ease by the end of this
    year, though the deep-seated systemic problems will remain, and
    companies will begin taking on workers again, signalling the end of
    the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

    This setback may herald a new era in the global system fundamentally
    altering the political and economic balance of power. The post-crisis
    era also looks certain to shake the established institutions, rules
    and players redefining a gradually emerging `new world order' that is
    likely to reduce the influence and power of super-majors such as the
    US, Japan and the EU to the benefit of BRIC (Brazil, India and China)

    Will tomorrow's EU turn into `Euro-Disneyland'?

    To maintain its current position let alone compete with others, the EU
    needs to reconnect its priorities and interests with the current and
    anticipated challenges faced by its people; demonstrate visibly the
    21st century relevance of the concept of Europe to prevent a descent
    into a 'Euro-Disneyland' and give the policy answers to these
    challenges first and then let institutional change help deliver them,
    rather than the other way round.

    This is to say that, unless Europe takes surgical action soon its
    further economic and political decline is almost inevitable. Without
    comprehensive reform Continental Europe's overprotected, overregulated
    economies will continue to slow down and deteriorate. This does not
    mean that Italy, Germany, France, the UK, and other now-prosperous
    countries will become poor; on the contrary, their standard of living
    will remain comfortable. It is the division between `old and new
    Europe' which will deepen. Europe's political and economic clout could
    become less relevant on the world scene.

    The prospects could be even worse if internal and external pressures
    on the EU continue, such as; the strain on the public health and
    social security system from an ageing population, the ongoing erosion
    of its international competitiveness in relation to China and India
    (and other emerging `tigers'), the potential stasis of trans-Atlantic
    dialogue with the United States, the threat of Russia and Ukraine not
    being properly accommodated within the EU, and if the EU cannot pull
    its various acts together to become a single voice on foreign,
    security and energy policies.

    Why did I become a Euro-sceptic?

    I do not want to sound like a doomsday alarmist because there are also
    positive developments to inspire optimism and the future can of course
    take a better course if the right actions and approach are taken in a
    timely manner. However, against the background highlighted above and
    because of the poor treatment of Turkey by the EU over the past half a
    century, I cannot help but be more euro-sceptic than euro-phile.

    The longer one lives on this island, less than an hour's ferry ride
    from Calais to Dover the closer one veers to the viewpoint of the
    'euro-sceptics club' We know that the British have never been terribly
    willing members of the EU from the outset. There are no surprises why
    British membership of the EU was vetoed several times during the
    tenure of France's President Charles de Gaulle. Long before the
    British joined many Continental Europeans thought they were too
    different to be constructive members of what was then the European
    Economic Community. London has always preferred its American cousins
    across the Atlantic and valued Commonwealth relations.

    However, the Brits are honest. They do not hide their dislike of the
    Continental Europeans' approach to economy and life and generally
    despise the federalist vision of Europe. But when it comes to
    implementing the acquis communautaire, they are more effective than
    the most fervent advocates of the `federal Europe' dream. There is of
    course no unanimity of opinion on Europe and New Labour, the Tories
    and Liberal Democrats often take divergent paths. Yet, a doubting
    stance lingers on and I have happily acquired this virus from my
    British friends and colleagues..

    Over the years I have come to empathise with the euro-sceptical
    approach, particularly whilst working professionally as a Turkish
    diplomat, OECD staffer and now multinational corporate executive with
    EU institutions and politicians. My views have become stronger after
    having closely observed the bureaucracy and inefficacy of the European
    Commission squandering its annual ?¬133 billion budget, whilst
    the European Parliament makes unfocused and inconsistent decisions
    backed by uncapped salaries and fringe benefits. Good long-term
    strategic decisions are rarely made and low performance levels plague
    many policy initiatives. There is a general insensitivity and
    arrogance towards other cultures and interests.

    Playing Devil's Advocate

    My discussion with those opposed to Turkey' accession to the EU on
    whatever grounds, be it economic, religious, cultural, geographic or
    political, usually begins with the statement that "actually, like you
    we also do not look warmly on accession prospects, but for different
    reasons". This serves as a cold shower and strong reminder that Turks
    should not be taken for granted and are not clinging to the coat tails
    of Europe. Then, I list the good reasons, without empty rhetoric, why
    Turkey should not be interested in membership, so long as the Turkish
    accession dossier is handled in the way it is currently is.

    What has often been forgotten in Europe is that the level of support
    as indicated by opinion polls and re-wording of the political party
    manifestos regarding the EU is declining in Turkey. There is a large
    and growing opposition inside Turkey to entry into the EU emanating
    not only from ultra-nationalists, religious fanatics or hard-line
    soldiers keen on sovereignty and suspicious of the `real' intentions
    of the EU. The unfairness and hypocrisy displayed on the Cyprus
    settlement issue has further fuelled anti-accession sentiment in the

    At any rate, the feeling is that we do not have to prove that Turkey
    is an essential part of this historical-geographical territory called
    Europe. We have been living in this space for much longer than most
    new EU members. We are proud to be Europeans, but at the same time
    Caucasian, Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, and Balkan, none of other
    Europeans have such a rich diversity and wide outreach.

    There is no question that the EU is suffering from enlargement
    fatigue. There is widespread concern, rightly or wrongly, that Romania
    and Bulgaria may have been admitted prematurely. Even before the
    current crisis commentators in Brussels were betting on Croatian
    accession in 2011 (although that is looking increasingly problematic),
    with accession for Turkey and the Western Balkans effectively kicked
    into the long grass behind a fig-leaf of extended membership talks
    with no momentum.

    The EU has regrettably lost much of its reputational capital in the
    eyes of most Turks on the street. To my great surprise, Turkish youth,
    both well educated and self-confident, as well as strong nationalists
    are more sceptical of the EU than the `old guard'. Sarkozy and Merkel
    have not helped much by insisting on the so-called `privileged
    partnership' at the expense of undermining the basic tenets of the
    `pacta sunt servanda' (Latin for "agreements must be kept"). This is
    not to say that Turks have done their bit of homework and met their
    obligations, and that all the blame should be laid at the EU's door.

    EU's pre-accession strategy has somewhat eroded motivations for
    membership and triggered nationalistic reactions in Turkey. The
    widening gap between unfulfilled expectations and the EU's functioning
    feeds public euro-scepticism. The EU's unceasing demands for reform
    and the evident reluctance to Turkish accession have further fuelled
    mistrust, focusing the 'EU debate' on the cost of accession without
    much in the way of economic benefits,whilst putting a `strait jacket'
    on many areas of vital importance ` a perfect example of asymmetrical

    Communicating on the same wavelength

    Frankly speaking, I take particular pleasure at airing contrarian
    views on this issue and being part of the debate as to why Turkey
    might be better off without full membership.

    The real cost to the EU of Turkey's non-accession needs to be visibly
    highlighted. After all, there are already more than enough
    unconditional pro-EU supporters in Turkey. Hence, what we need are
    people who can act as qualified `Devil's Advocate' and show those
    `Turkey-bashing' souls that there is the other side to the coin and
    Turkey cannot be pushed around at their pleasure.

    Our objective in doing so of course is not to disparage the EU to the
    point of leading people to think that there is `no real future for
    Turkey in the EU; we should turn our face towards the east or the
    north', as some of my compatriots propose. Instead, our aim is to
    inject a healthy dose of realism and scepticism into the generally
    rosy vistas presented to us, as well as to encourage the development
    of a balanced and acceptable `give and take' approach for the
    accession process.

    As Turkey's opponents argue, it is true that the eventual accession
    will considerably change the future outlook of both Turkey and the
    EU. Surely, the EU with Turkey as a member will look quite different
    from anything its founding fathers ever envisaged. The Union will face
    the challenge of fundamentally re-defining itself, progressively
    changing from an entity largely concerned with economic and social
    redistribution via its agricultural, cohesion and structural funds
    into a global actor that invests more on competitiveness,
    infrastructure, research and development, poverty reduction, military
    capability, and border protection. Admittedly, this process will not
    be easy politically since there will be strong opposition from
    domestic sectors, adversely affected, in nearly every country
    including in Turkey.

    Hence, whether Turkish accession will be for better or worse in the
    final analysis depends very much on how both sides will agree to
    interact from the outset towards a commonly perceived vision.

    Let's not devalue the EU's achievements

    To be fair, we should be thankful for the idealism and faith shown by
    the European Union's founders. No doubt, the EU is the biggest
    political union and largest economic market in the world, whose
    citizens live in democracy, peace, freedom and prosperity. The EU has
    achieved many stunning successes in its history. It has engineered
    the Single Market and moved the Lisbon 2010 competitiveness agenda
    forward a little. The Schengen agreement is working, and Brussels is
    currently leading the way with the global climate change agenda. The
    EU of course is committed to creating a single area of freedom,
    justice, and security. It is also trying to achieve energy supply
    security, though at a snail's pace, without antagonising Russia.

    Yet, today these are not enough to justify the existence of the EU to
    a different generation living in different times. The track record
    leaves us with mixed feelings.

    Germany and France are no longer the powerful locomotives of the
    EU. They are also disillusioned with the Eurozone, the weakness of the
    EU institutions, the referendum failures of both the European
    constitution and the Lisbon treaty. They tend to become more
    nationalist and selfish than European after realising that the EU
    flying on autopilot, run by its bureaucrats and inefficient processes
    has become less relevant to their goals and people.

    The fact is there are serious blockages in the EU system right now and
    if these are not cleared and, if radical new structures are not put in
    place instead of the current cosmetic changes, then it is inevitable
    that inner EU bickering will only become more aggravated and
    ultimately irreparable. If this happens then no one would expect the
    EU to have any real impact anymore on the global system. It will be
    relegated to a regional bloc status.

    What is in it for us?

    Over the past few years the EU entrance aspiration has lost ground and
    speed in Turkey. This cannot be explained away by simply saying that
    Brussels has not satisfied the ruling Justice and Development Party
    (AKP)'s expectations causing Ankara to draw back. In my opinion, it is
    not that simple. We have a better understanding now of the strengths,
    weaknesses and hypocrisies of the EU, which has had the positive
    effect of ending our once frantic obsession for EU accession and adopt
    more of a foot-down approach, based around 'what is in it for us?' The
    public opinion polls also point to such a cooling of emotions
    vis-à-vis the EU.

    Under the current conditions, even if the Cyprus problem were to be
    solved¦ the European Commission's annual reports were to present
    evidence of a perfectly clean record on Turkey's progress¦ all 35
    of the accession chapters were to open at the same time and achieve
    endorsement¦furthermore, even if the Armenian `genocide'
    allegations were adopted in the way Brussels has pushed for¦we
    should not mislead ourselves into believing that Turkish EU membership
    is anywhere on the visible horizon. The prospects could only be
    different if there is a dramatic change of heart and combined effort
    to push forward the accession under the stewardship of France, Germany
    and the UK.

    Those who present this accession phenomenon in a starkly
    black-and-white fashion as "what, are you also opposed to EU
    accession? Isn't the EU the natural destination for our country's
    historical vocation? If we don't enter the EU we will become nothing
    but lunch for the wolves, stuck in the vicious cycle of nationalism,
    religious fanaticism in the Middle East!" should not be given a
    sympathetic ear either.

    The current strategy of the EU machinery appears to be based on the
    no-longer-functioning and no-longer-credible `carrot and stick'
    approach, trying to hold Turkey at bay and evade as long as possible a
    firm decision through drawn-out accession talks. This is completely in
    line with how the country has always been treated ` this needs to
    fundamentally change.

    If Turkey were to correctly analyze the global power shift, which is
    putting Asia-Pacific at the forefront of economics and geopolitic and
    could position itself accordingly, it would assure itself a rightful
    place on the 'winners' train' even before the EU could. If the EU
    fails to shake itself into action to play a central role on the world
    stage and, if it doesn't quell the flames of its own internal fires
    and make the long overdue political and institutional transformations
    for this, then whether or not Turkey becomes a full EU member won't
    matter in the larger unified picture..

    To become a global power on a par with the US and China, the EU has to
    embrace Turkey. If this will does not exist there is no point in
    wasting our energy on EU accession games.

    Turkey to become a precious asset and the EU a `strait-jacket'?

    So why is it that Turkey should want to join an ageing EU, whose
    competitiveness and world standing are fast eroding, and which is so
    heavily dependent on outside energy resources and in a constant state
    of internal battles between the 'old' and `new' Europe?

    We need to carefully weigh what accession to the EU means for us. Will
    it soak up our dynamism and burden us with social security
    responsibilities for its ageing and less-than-entrepreneurial

    Will we be able to benefit from common agricultural policy subsidies
    as Spain, France, Ireland, Italy and Greece did for decades to reach
    their current level of development? How long will we wait for full
    participation in decision-making processes and for free movement of

    What about its empty coffers ` will there be any money left in the
    EU's lucrative cohesion and infrastructure funds? What are the
    geo-political implications - will the EU accession restrict our
    freedom in foreign policy and tie us down when it comes to moves
    towards Russia, Iran, the Caucasus, Central Asia, China, and the
    Middle East?

    We have to seriously debate these issues and ask tough
    questions. Before consuming more of our national energies we need to
    get definite and satisfactory answers!

    One overarching argument in favour of Turkey's accession is to embed
    Western values and standards in our lives ` this is a great
    aspiration, but can we really say that the only worthwhile values
    reside in 27 countries in the world? Are our own values and
    institutions, which await re-discovery, and which have been developed
    over thousands of years of social and political experience really less
    valuable or less worthy of consideration?

    How should negotiations be conducted?

    This is the first time that accession negotiations have been so
    controversial amongst EU member state. Negotiations regarding Turkey's
    accession have so many uncertainties and serious political and
    economic impediments, making it absolutely essential that both sides
    should agree on an imaginative, constructive problem-solving approach
    to produce a successful conclusion of this process.

    The discussions in Brussels clearly indicated that accession
    negotiations would not be on the basis of a `business-as-usual'
    mandate with an emphasis on the acquis communautaire and Turkey's
    ability to effectively apply it at the moment of entry into the
    EU. The attainment of European standards with respect to
    democratization and liberalization, as well as changing not only
    certain practices and legislation, but also the public and official
    mindsets on both sides would need to be the primary goal.

    It goes without saying that the process begun by Europe's leaders in
    Brussels will have to be completed by the politicians of the future `
    probably during the lifetime of at least two new governments in each
    country. Given the high degree of domestic controversy that the
    Turkish dossier causes, governments may not have any interest in
    keeping the Turkish accession issue visible on the public agenda until
    such a time that a positive public perception of Turkey is
    generated. Most EU leaders would prefer to put the issue on the
    backburner by leaving the concrete task of preparing and conducting
    the negotiations mainly to the European Commission.

    Redefining the Turco-EU roadmap

    Yes, it is really time to shake ourselves. Time to identify clearly
    who we are and what our national interests are and to place these on
    the scale and re-assess their relative weights. Time has come to
    clarify what our relations with the EU should be from our viewpoint
    and not as dictated by Brussels.

    Pay no attention to the calls for `privileged partnership', put out
    there by the likes of Sarkozy and Merkel. They do not even merit a
    response. These are, after all, nothing but political stances,
    displayed by those who have perfected the art of playing to the
    tribunes ` opinions which can go as quickly as they come.

    Turkey's case for serious consideration by the EU has often rested on
    broader strategic and political issues, rather than civilization-based
    factors. The real post-Cold War strategic significance of Turkey to
    Europe lies in the problems that a less stable or more activist Turkey
    could create. Europe requires a stable, modernizing and democratic
    Turkey to help keep radical Islam from Europe's borders. It needs a
    Turkey that is cautious in its regional policies toward the Caucasus,
    the Balkans and the Middle East and, which seeks to avoid
    confrontation with Moscow and Tehran. The point is not so much what
    Turkey offers to Europe as what its `loss to Europe' could entail. In
    a certain sense, what Europe needs from Turkey is that it is
    contained, controlled and prudent.

    Well, EU states will certainly act in self-interest. There is nothing
    wrong with this, but the important thing is what we, Turkey, want. A
    nation with a 750 billion dollar economic powerbase, with one of the
    largest and most influential military forces in the world and a
    cultural hinterland which we have become more aware of in recent
    years, never mind its role as the crossroads of energy flows and
    civilisations cannot be ignored. We are unique cornerstone in our
    ability to synthesize the western values and Islam's traditions
    between the north and the south.

    Perhaps it needs to be said out loud that such a nation with an
    imperial history cannot meekly consent to the capricious behaviour of
    the authorities in Brussels and in some EU capitals, nor that Turkey
    can be judged by the same 'take it or leave it' criteria applied to
    countries like Malta, South Cyprus, or Bulgaria.

    Otherwise, no one can say just where this `open-ended' process is
    going to drag us to and in fact this whole process will continue
    forever soaking up our national energy like a sponge. For now though,
    let us leave these accession talks to continue at technical
    levels. Let's embrace the same approach they are taking. Let's not
    destroy what we have so far achieved on this front, but let's demand
    to see the cards in their hand and to protect our own national
    interests as jealously as they guard theirs.

    In the meantime, we should focus firmly on being not a `paper tiger',
    but a real `regional power' to be reckoned with economically,
    militarily and democratically - one which is strong and `problem-free'
    in relation to its neighbours, robust against dealing with the fallout
    of the global depression, and a power, which can offer its neighbours
    and its own people prosperity, peace, and security. Do not worry ` the
    rest will simply follow.

    Judge Turkey for its potential and not on an historically biased or
    current clouded view

    More importantly, EU leaders would be better to judge Turkey on the
    basis of its potential economic and geostrategic importance from today
    to 2023 and what the future holds for Europe by then - not on the
    narrow and short-term interests of today or yesterday. With Turkey the
    EU will not only achieve an immensely richer cultural diversity, but
    also considerable manufacturing capacity, entrepreneurship, and better
    foreign/security policy outreach to the key regions of the world,
    i.e. Russia, the Balkans, the Middle East, the Caucasus and the
    Central Asia. It is a `take it or leave it' deal for the EU, too.

    The two terms of government may suffice to fundamentally change the
    face (and the substance) of Turkey for the better, while the EU will
    also be going through changes and making difficult choices. One should
    recall that the founding father of modern Turkey, Kemal Ataturk
    accomplished the bulk of his revolutionary modernising vision for the
    country in a period of around 15 years (1923-1938), between the two
    destructive world wars and in a radically greater state of economic
    deprivation. Consider what more can be achieved over the next two
    decades in the era of rapid globalisation. Then, it is not a
    science-fiction to predict that both Turkey and the EU will be starkly
    different from what they are today and it is in their hands to shape
    the common future starting now, rather than speculating on the fears
    to come.

    Let's maximise the benefits of our strong association with the Middle
    East, Russia, Central Asia, the United States and Asia-Pacific as much
    as possible without being too much obsessed or blinded about belonging
    to one club. When we arrive at 2023, will we look back at ourselves
    and the EU asking "did we make the right decisions and take the right
    steps at the right time?"

    Hopefully, the debate I am presenting can influence this direction
    positively from where we are now.

    About the author

    Mehmet Ã-Ä?ütçÃ&#xBC ; is Mulkiye, London
    School of Economics and College d'Europe graduate, a former Turkish
    diplomat, senior Organization for Economic Co-operation and
    Development (OECD) staffer, and currently major multinational
    corporation executive, based in London. He is also the author of
    `Turkey's 2023 Roadmap' (Etkilesim, 2008) and `Does our future lay
    with Rising Asia?' (Milliyet, 1998). 44171