The recent vote by the EU parliament to suspend accession talks for Turkey to the European Union has been met with resentment by the Turkish political elite. The EU report on the vote says: “While the EU accession process was at its start a strong motivation for reforms in Turkey, there has been a stark regression in the areas of the rule of law and human rights during the last few years”. But contrary to conventional wisdom, Turkey should see in the refusal to be admitted to the EU a reason for celebration instead.
The EU parliament vote of course did not come as a surprise. At least since 2016, in the aftermath of the coup attempt on the night of the 15th of July of the same year, the accession talks between EU and the Turkey had been stalled. The EU has repeatedly expressed concern over the state of human rights in Turkey, along with restrictions to media freedom, the increasing pressure on the judicial system, and the violation of the human rights of LGBTI people, and many other things. In its report issued after the EU parliament vote, the EU even “calls on the Turkish Government to halt its plans for the construction of the Akkuyu nuclear power plant”. This is meant to become Turkey’s first nuclear power plant, to be built by the Russian state nuclear power corporation, ROSATOM. On the whole, the EU list of concerns with regards to Turkey appears a rather long one.
So one may be excused if one goes away with the impression that according to the EU Turkey is still not European enough to be granted the honour of accessing the EU someday. The question that begs one’s mind is: didn’t the EU bureaucracy know this before? Wasn’t it always obvious that a country like Turkey could never turn into a Mediterranean Sweden? Shouldn’t it have been obvious to the Franco-German EU establishment that the Turks could never really have become exactly like contemporary Germans, champions of Protestant ethic industry and postmodern liberal values, basically the same people, only with different looks, history and geography (and much better weather and food)?
This is a key aspect about the EU, its values and its enlargements. The EU and the believers of the (Pan-)European Project like to promote the image of the EU as a model of open society, a house of cultural difference and tolerance where everyone is accepted and treated as an equal partner. In reality, European identity generally turns out to be a bit less balanced. We see this in the Eastern European countries that joined the EU since 2004: access to the EU has meant for the new members that they have seen a massive inflow of Old Europe capital (German, French, Austrian, British), with Old Europe large corporations expanding rapidly in the new markets, and Eastern European workers, especially younger and often the most productive ones, leaving their countries in search for better opportunities in the richer part of Europe, often never to return.
Moreover, the vast majority of these Eastern European countries, with the exception of Poland and Romania, are relatively small countries, with populations that do not exceed 10 million people, like for example the Czech Republic, and they were happy to welcome more foreign investment in exchange for a partial loss of sovereignty. Their accession to the EU did not radically alter the political and economic balance of the European Union and they had no illusions about that. For Slovakia or Bulgaria, being regarded as an equal partner by the great powers of Europe like France or Germany was never really part of the equation.
Should Turkey then agree to become a subordinate member of the European Union? Because this is what it would look like. If Turkey were to become a member of the EU, it would not mean that there would be an equal and respectful exchange of ideas and practices. For Turkey to join the EU, Europe would expect Turkey to reform and transform itself until it becomes “perfectly European” in its industry, regulations, human rights and media standards. And what is “perfectly European” of course is decided by the EU establishment and Turkey would have little if no say at all in the process. Does Turkey really want to become such a partner within the EU? Does Turkey really want to be told by the Brussels establishment what is right and what is wrong?
The other question also concerns Turkey’s sheer size. As of 2019, Turkey would automatically become the 2nd EU largest member, with a population of 82 million, and with Germany’s population posed to decline because its senility, (unless the country takes another million non-European refugees in the coming years), Turkey could suddenly be the largest EU member by population, which would give it also the largest number of representatives in the EU parliament and a strong clout. Would the EU establishment, or the vast part of EU citizens for that matter, really be able to accept that, in the name of democracy and open dialogue? Probably not.
Turkey’s potential membership would not mean that Dutch or Irish businessmen suddenly would want to learn something from the Turks in the name of cultural enrichment and integration. It would mean that Turkey would have to accept the entire body of European norms and practices without asking too many questions, a repeat of the famous capitulations, to evoke a far historical memory whose echo still does not resonate very well in Turkey. And what self-respecting nation would ever accept a “partnership” like that?