Turkey to the EU's rescue

Daily News Egypt
6 Min Read

LAUSANNE: The Copenhagen Climate Change Conference was an unmitigated disaster for the European Union. Instead of the EU claiming center stage, as its leaders assumed it would, the key actors were the United States, Brazil, South Africa, India, and China. Indeed, when the accord was reached, the EU not even in the room. Copenhagen exposed the demise of Europe not only as a global power, but even as a global arbiter.

So what is the EU is left with? As its “hard power ebbs, its “soft power, as illustrated by the Copenhagen summit, seems to be very weak. This in part arises from a failure to provide the EU with political power.

The Lisbon Treaty was a compromise constitutional arrangement that would nevertheless give the EU greater weight and authority precisely for occasions such as the Copenhagen summit, when global issues are addressed. Though multiple European actors on the world stage were more than justified in the old days, this is no longer the case. With China, India, the US, Indonesia, Brazil, and other major global players speaking with one voice, Europe could no longer afford a cacophony of voices.

But in Copenhagen, the structure established by the Lisbon Treaty failed. Can anyone even recall what the EU’s new president said there? Indeed, can anyone even remember his name? (It is Herman von Rumpoy, in case you were wondering.)

Beyond the failure in Copenhagen, the EU has several other problems. It tends to be perceived globally as supercilious, petulant, and prim. Its know-it-all attitude grates almost everywhere. With only 7% of the world’s population (and rapidly dwindling) and composed mainly of post-industrial low-growth economies, the EU is increasingly seen as marginal. Europeans do not realize how little interest in “European affairs there is in Seoul, Sydney, São Paolo, or San Francisco. There is a growing general global consensus that Europe is a pompous old has-been.

There are many causes for the decline of the EU’s global position and prestige, one of which has been the way in which the Union has evolved as an aloof and bureaucratic citadel. This is unfortunate, because, despite its problems, the EU does have much to offer. But there seems little prospect for a European revival. The EU will continue to decline and become increasingly marginalized as it fails to find the spirit or the structure to adjust to the profound transformations and challenges of the twenty-first century.

There is one thing, however, that could revive the EU, give it much enhanced global respectability, and make it an “interesting place, as well as ensure a return to the international limelight: Turkey’s admission as a full member.

The debate about whether Turkey is European is absurd. It is impossible to airbrush Turkey out of European history. Apart from being an integral part of Europe, membership for Turkey, with its young and dynamic population, would provide a great fillip for Europe’s aging demographic profile.

In a highly complex and diverse world, the EU stands out for its homogeneity. While the EU flatters itself on diversity, it is in fact one of the least diverse regions of the world. There is more ethnic diversity in, say, Malaysia than in the entire EU. ASEAN as a whole, with a population of 580 million, is not significantly bigger than the EU (with 500 million), yet it encompasses an infinitely greater degree of ethnic, linguistic, cultural, and religious diversity.

With Turkey as a member, the EU would gain legitimacy as a more “normal world region. By admitting Turkey, with the world’s fifth-largest Muslim population (after Indonesia, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and India), the EU would be in a position to establish close ties with the world’s 1.8 billion Muslims, and could become a credible voice on reform within the Islamic world. Turkish membership in the Union would also greatly ease the assimilation of the EU’s own Muslim minorities.

EU lethargy and growing irrelevance in global public affairs owes much to Eurocentric political atavism. One potential benefit of the Copenhagen debacle could be that it forces the Union to wake up to the new world of the twenty-first century.

An EU with Turkey as a member would be far better situated to meet today’s challenges than an EU without Turkey. But, unfortunately, Turkey, like much of the rest of the world, is rather turned off by the EU. Indeed, now it is the Union that will need to seduce the Turkish people, rather than the other way around.

That seduction should begin this year, with an agenda that sets the process and timeframe for accession, to be followed by an EU-Turkey Treaty that confirms the country’s accession by 2020.

Jean-Pierre Lehmann is Professor of International Political Economy and Founding Director of the Evian Group at IMD Business School. This commentary is published by DAILY NEWS EGYPT in collaboration with Project Syndicate (www.project-syndicate.org).

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