compulsory reading

Turkey’s EU membership? Put it off. Put it on.

The political debate on Turkey’s membership is likely going to be put off again. Given the Franco-German agreement, next weeks EU summit will probably announce a revision of Turkey’s reform effort in 2004. Should the result be positive, membership negotiations could begin in 2005.

I am plainly impressed by the result of the recent diplomatic success. It’s hardly imaginable without silent – but effective – US background management. The US effort has obviously become a lot easier following the transatlantic repercussions produced by Schröder’s “No war in Iraq” campaign. Tying up Turkey with Europe is old US goal and a good reason for the US administration to keep up some pressure on Germany – which usually wasn’t too supportive of the idea of Turkish membership for a lot of reasons. The nee Turkish government’s successes should thus also be seen in the light of the US presenting Schröder with the diplomatic bill.

But it seems there’s more to the Turkish question now than there was ever before. As opposed to the formal political debate which will be adjourned next week it seems a debate about the “Europeaness” of Turkey is beginning all over Europe. This week’s Economist’s editorial is but one indicator. We’ll see if there will be less of that debate once the formal question has been dealt with. My guess is – short term, yes. Medium term, no.

Let’s not be fooled. The question of Turkish membership is probably the most crucial decision the EU has to take since the Single Eurpean Act in 1986. Not simply for geographical reasons. Giscard d’Estaing, president of the European Constitutional Convention, said a month or so ago, that Turkish membership would mean “the end of the European Union”. Well, that might be slightly exaggerated, but I guess what d’Estaing wanted to say was something else anyway and he is certainly right there : Turkish membership will mean the end of the European Union the way we know it.

The question of European finalities will have to be restated in new ways. But that might even be a good thing. I don’t agree with the Economist’s awkward British attitude towards looser integration, but they are clearly pointing out an increasingly true fact about Europe. The more people, the more governments, the more ideas about where European institutional cooperation should headed:

“It is hard to answer that question without deciding what the ultimate purpose of the EU is. But here there is no consensus: the habit of the EU has been to invent itself as it goes along. Its shape and purpose are evolving. It is plainly becoming a hybrid: much more than just a free-trade area but much less than a superstate. For many of its members, not just for those awkward Britons but also for prickly newcomers such as the 40m Poles, a headlong drive towards political and even military integration will be resisted. […] As for Russia, or Morocco, why should geography, or religion, dictate who might join? If the European idea is to inspire, it ought to be about values, not maps or tribes. Countries that can subscribe to the core values of democracy and freedom should be eligible as candidates, be they Slavs or Muslims, and no matter how far they are in miles from Paris or Berlin.”

Very true. But as the last sentence indicates, political cooperation is not only about values. And it is no wonder the Britsh Economist would like to see the looser kind of integration which is the likely outcome of increased European heterogeneity. It follows the (generalised) British idea of Europe and no longer the one of the EU’s (dare I say it? federal!) founders.

“The Economist would prefer this looser sort of Europe, perhaps comprising overlapping inner clubs of those who wish to integrate more tightly.”

I fear history is going to repeat itself. A larger European Union (or however the larger thing will be called) with closer cooperation around the classic core (probably without Italy in the beginning. The first proposal for a core Europe, the now famous “Schäuble-Lamers-paper” from 1994 will become very popular in the near future, I suppose. The renewed Franco-German cooperation is likely as much a result of the perceived widening gap between Europe and the (Republican) US administration as an understanding of this deeper European dynamic.
And the Brits will be out again – until they will realise they are missing something. Churchill’s three spheres of British influence (US, Commonwealth, Europe) may have shifted in salience and to some extent overlap these days. But they still exist – in the form of British ambivalence towards the Continent.

If history is giong to repeat itself, let’s hope it’s gooing to be a farce, not a tragedy. It won’t all be about Turkey. But without Turkey, the European heterogeneity would be a lot easier to handle. We’re approaching interesting times.