A Discussion with Sir Andrew Duff in Brussels: Turkey and the European Union

Cihan ERKLİ
24 December 2012
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BILGESAM’s expert on European and Security affairs, Mr. Cihan Erkli (C.E.), recently conducted a thorough discussion with a Member of the European Parliament and President of the Union of European Federalists, Sir. Andrew Duff (A.D.). The discussion centered around the contested topics of the Turkish accession to the European Union (EU),

the economic crisis facing the EU and the future of the EU as both a political and economic union, as well as a union of beliefs and values.

 
CE: Sir, thank you for this kind opportunity. Could you please introduce yourself to our audience?

 

AD: I am, amongst other things, the spokesman for the liberal group in the parliament on the constitutional matters. So that means treaty change, which might sound very boring, but actually is the cutting edge of the integration because we have to craft in treaty terms and institutional development a deeper kind of integration which is very political—if we fail to do that we will fall apart. I have always thought of the EU as a large, expensive and exciting experiment and, like all experiments, it can fail. So the writing of the rulebook is very important; the definition of powers, the competences and the development of these powers, competences of the EU overtime is of the essence, at the heart, of the integration project.

 

CE: This is the process of the last 50-60 years that we are talking about here whereupon the EU institutions have developed gradually as the economic system has augmented itself with the Maastricht Treaty…

 

AD: …as well as the international affairs level; it’s not only the economy that is the driver—clearly the international affairs have had an important effect on the European project. The start of the 1940s-1950s Cold War times were imperative inducers. But still even now pressures from the Middle East, Iran or the Maghreb—the challenge of the Arab Spring, for example—are all incentives for the Europeans to be more coherent.

 

CE: Reflected via a common foreign policy, but also normatively if I have understood you correctly.

 

AD: Yes, yes.

 

CE: Which is a point I would actually like to delve into. Liberalism, as you have stated earlier, can be reflected on the intuitions or the constitutional debating process. Turkey is a nation at the moment thoroughly debating what we need to do with a new constitution and how to change. We have relatively skewed opinions stemming from a traditional political spectrum; ‘leftist’ static opinions vs. ‘rightist’ change as demonstrated by the economic policies, let alone the debates surrounding democracy. How would you describe the process of reflecting liberalism within this process—would it be by placing the individual in the focal point of the political process?

 

AD: I think that is right; we put great emphasis on the individual and its right/rights. These were crafted for a long time but are symbolically in the charter of fundamental rights of the EU which—after the Treaty of Lisbon is enforced and mandatory as binding EU policy—and the agencies of the EU which include the member states insofar as they implement broad, large EU policy must respect those provisions. We have resisted the articulation of collective rights because our view is that if you assert the collective as a class or a section of society you are bound to tread on the rights of somebody else. So we have put great emphasis on the individual and have turned the old European norm of the interwar, Fascist period on its head. The citizen was viewed as the servant of the state and the army was there to protect the state from the citizen. We have challenged this norm and have changed it. Now the army and state serve its citizens. I think this is a quiet revolution which a lot of people in Turkey have yet to make. It is not the fault of Mustafa Kemal that he drew from Western experience of the worst possible time—the European fascist period—but his legacy is strong and distorted in Turkey. It still needs to be reformed profoundly so that Turkish westernization follows contemporary western norms rather than old fashioned ones…

 

CE:…so Turkey trends behind in the westernization process in and of itself as well?

 

AD: That’s right. That’s right. And I have explained this to Turkish representatives in the constitution committee to have a look at the acquis and the charter of the EU.

 

CE: So the EU could offer a proverbial guiding ‘light’ for Turkey within this process?

 

AD: Yes, I mean you don’t have to do everything the EU does for heaven’s sake, we have also made mistakes, but you have got to learn from our mistakes too. But I do believe the fundamentals of the EU are absolutely sound and they are of huge importance for improving the quality of life of the Turkish people. Whether or not Turkey joins the EU, the exercise of assimilating the acquis is of tremendous benefit for Turkey.

 

CE: And in that regard a possible accession would be the ‘carrot’ (reward) for having gone through with the reforms?

 

AD:  Yes, it could but I wouldn’t say it ought to be thought of as the grail---the Holy Grail---of going through with the reforms. To expect a candidate country—not just Turkey, but other candidates like western Balkan states—to catch up with the EU at a time when we are ourselves experiencing a great instability of a fast moving integration, but when the threshold of joining the EU is going up—becoming ever more challenging to cross that line than before—this expectation has got to be realistic. It isn’t only a matter of domestic reform, but the Turkish state has got to adapt itself to the demands of integration. To be quite blunt, this means sacrificing national sovereignty on a grand scale. Many Turks, especially Kemalists, are not receptive of that. But prime minister Erdogan, a proud man and in a sense just as nationalistic as his predecessors although he has a different approach with the AKP, scratch him and you discover an old Turkish nationalist narrative. So, for him, the prospect of joining the EU has always been very difficult. He has always seen it as an important part of a canon of policies which his party has got to treat seriously, but I don’t think he’s ever truly been committed to becoming a member of the EU. The more he learns about the EU, the less inclined he is to join.

 

CE: As some critics have remarked, Erdogan has selectively approached --- but not just the AKP, other parties as well—joining the EU as a process whereupon statesmen could cherry pick some of the benefits while choosing to evade some of the responsibilities and the seemingly not so savory aspects of joining. Would you say that what Turkey is experiencing with the EU accession process is a re-thinking of its nationalism? Is there a shift from an ethnic, religious nationalism towards a civic nationalism (principles uniting the nation as opposed to cultural, religious notions)?

 

AD: I mean, Turkey is of course a large and complex place, and therefore it’s not easy or proper to simplify things too much. But I do think that, collectively, there has yet to be a Europeanizing experience at a profound level, cultural level. Now, it hasn’t happened in Britain either and it isn’t a technical criterion to join the EU. People don’t have to feel affinity with the EU, though it helps, not having it does create an awful lot of problems. And it depends, in a sense, to whom you speak; if you speak to businessman it’s quite clear what they want: they want their trade, they want to ease the visa requirements, the technology transfer—which is all fine—but the intellectual class is a bit more nuanced in this approach. And here the secular and religious divide begins to really matter. And the army is a different thing all together. And Istanbul is not like Diyarbakir and Konya is different even to these other two. The Kurds have their own perspective on the EU.

 

CE: Now that we’ve discussed the domestic and the national level, I would like to visit the international, strategic perspective as well. The word on the street, or even in official circles in Brussels, has been that Turkey is just too poor, far too different with its Muslim identity and—ergo—culturally too different from other European countries. And now these arguments are used by some Turks in Turkey as well: post-hoc arguments are now composed to validate these assumptions. What would a liberal response be to these statements?

 

AD: I am a great believer at looking at facts of the matter when it comes to the economy. Turkey is richer than Romania or Bulgaria, so the too-poor argument is hard to peddle here. The ‘Muslim argument’ is far more telling and that’s become far more striking because of the AKP. In the old days the Kemalist secularists had control of the international profile of Turkey. Whenever anyone went there one was always impressed by how often these Turks said they were a secular nation. Well, this was never really true but it’s much less true now. And if you are skeptical about the relevance of religion—which a lot of westerners are—whither they are Christian, Jewish or anything else, there is a greater sense of agnosticism here in the West than there is in Turkey. We certainly think and fear that a rise of Islamism or fundamentalism in Turkey would be a great threat to the fundamental rights as we have conceived it. We have direct experience with this—not all Turks, in Britain there aren’t many Turks but other Muslim populations—have offered challenges to a multicultural society. Their attitudes towards woman, towards gay rights for example, matter to the British, Germans and etc. So, without being prejudiced towards Islam, I think there is a sense of it’s a curiosity in a sense that we have to treat religious Muslims with a great care and sensitivity which is not very easy for a quite a lot of secular Europeans…

 

CE: …especially given the political developments of the last decade or so….

 

AD: Right and the Orthodox issue for example is even more difficult as it is not Western.

 

CE: What could the EU do, subtracting itself from these arguments, with institutional or technocrat proposals?

 

AD: I think we have. There is a fairly cut separation between the European institutions and the church, for example. In the East this is yet an on-going development and as well in the South with Catholicism. It’s not just with Islam so you see the difficulty and the special care. The pope, for example and his stance towards gay rights, it’s not how most of us are. Terribly conservative and unhelpful I think---both domestically and globally.

 

CE: Another argument has been that Turkey shouldn’t enter an EU that is divided. Many of them think—looking at the economic situation in the PIGS countries and the incoherent straight jacket policies—why join and be bound to the same straight jacket and slow down our economic growth or have Brussels meddle with even minute national policies?

 

AD: And again this is not the optimum time to join the EU. We are going through profound crisis of our own. But I was in Serbia recently and spoke to those of the former Milosevic camp and even they, being completely frank, said they had “no option other than joining the EU”. They stated that they “We have our problems, you have your problems” but that in the long run, “we have to try join the EU for completing our track of modernization and plotting our reforms along EU lines”. And this applies to Turkey. Might not seem quite like that, since Turkey is not Serbia but much larger above anything else, but I would much prefer Turkey to engage with something that it fully understood as opposed to something it did not know properly. It would be risky if Turkey were to sign up to a contract that it had not fully appraised beforehand. It’s got to understand that for Europe to salvage itself from the crisis it’s in now, it’s got to integrate much more quickly and more deeply. It will end up, though unlike the United States, with a federal structure that is much more advanced than today. It will have much more coherent policies at the federal level; common justice affaires, common integration policies, common environmental and streamlined policies, foreign policy. There is a lot of Europe that we have yet to see or come about and that is what we’re working hard on in this house and in the commission.

 

CE: Some have argued quite the opposite. Be it through the pointing out of the structural differences of respective economic national portfolios or political culture—for example between the agrarian, southern no-trade surplus Greece and the heavily industrial, northern with trade surplus Germany—that the EU should cease trying to smother out the differences and, going with that argument, not seek the creation of uniform doctrines superimposed on member states from Brussels.

 

AD: Yes, I know these are often said, but I do believe that we have saved Greece in fact. The reforms of Greece will work, though they will take a long time. What we have to do is lower the price of the debt to break the link between the sovereign and banking debt. We know what we need to do now, we just need to go ahead and carry with it now. This needs a lot of legislation, a lot of intrusion to the domestic affairs—or rather what were previously thought of as domestic affairs—of the poorer member states, but of all the member states. The German banks are up in arms because of our approach to strengthen the supervision of the EU over them. There are models of economic and social organization which aren’t the same throughout the EU—trying to uniform them was never the case---though it is a mess at the moment. We can’t all be in trade surplus or deficit at all times. The real surprise came with the seemingly failed integrative effect the monetary union failed to induce as we had hoped. And it did permit, especially in places where regulation was weak, for things like property bubbles to happen. But all these are products of failed government and can be and are being corrected.

 

CE: By a supervising EU?

 

AD: Yes, yes.

 

CE: Sir, what would you say to those that argue that (1) the rise of the far-right is a symptom of reaction against the ever-strengthening EU with its rapid social change and (2) to those that argue that the Merkel-Sarkozy ‘alliance’ first built their popular platform on drawing from this resentment but had to, after the global and European economic crises, revert to triumphing the EU forcefully after having hijacked the process. Some argue, along these lines that being German under Merkel become more important than being ‘European’ and partly the reason why Sarkozy lost to Hollande was because of his loss of the far-right anti-EU reactionary constituency?

 

AD: I don’t think so; I think we just, unfortunately, had a bad class of poor leaders. Just bad luck really. They are the products of their political parties and they have to answer a lot for failing to sustain the integration process of the EU in a democratic or efficient way. They are jealous or ignorant of the EU or both. They blame us for anything that goes wrong and accredit themselves for anything they seem to have done right. The scale of a lot of the problems today has far transcended the capacity of the old nation-state. They simply cannot address them. When they realize this limitation, they are naturally antagonized. This certainly helps rise of the anti-party parties of anti-politics. And it these political parties that throw up people like Sarkozy, Hollande or Cameron.

 

CE: What do you expect to see with Hollande government in the next 4 or so years? What about a possible SPD victory and change in Germany?

 

AD: I hope and expect to see Hollande mature more as a European.

 

CE: And less so more just catering himself only for his French constituency and partakes in the European ‘family’?

 

AD: Yes, yes. And he’s not that bad, there have been worse. But he is not a Francois Mitterrand. The current political problem is that France and Germany do not agree on much and they have got to make an effort to agree.

 

CE: For a long time many pro-EU, pro-Brussels pundits have argued that Turkey was a ‘Trojan’ horse more inclined and biased towards an Atlanticist/NATO agenda more than a continental European one. Leading from this argument, the same pundits have argued that the United States of America (US) particularly wanted Turkey within the EU to co-opt a strong and coherent European common security and foreign policy. Furthermore, some pundits in the US have stated that the return of the Left in Europe could herald a better and new period of dialogue between Turkey and the EU. Do you personally identify with any of these comments?

 

AD: I have heard some of these theories sprouting out of Washington DC think tanks and I think most of them are grossly exaggerated. In fact, if Turkey was really serious about NATO, it would solve the Cyprus problem because that’s the greatest flaw and weakness in the Western security posture. In fact, NATO’s future is imperiled because it’s paralyzed by this dispute. So I don’t draw the conclusion that Turkey is really keen on being a stool pigeon for the US. If it had been it would have acted on the American instructions. Just look at the clear clash between Turkey and the US in the matter of the Israel-Palestine. And these comments originate from manifold US politicians and not by some Tea party enthusiasts. So I’m very skeptical that the security-military imperative is taken on board by our present leadership. I would like it to have had a greater salience than it has because if it had, then problems like Cyprus would be put in the proper perspective and be properly dispatched!

 

CE: Was allowing Cyprus into the EU a bit rushed?

 

AD: I think it was a mistake, but we had no option for the Athens parliament would have vetoed the accession of all the other acceding states. We were tied and you could say that we could have not found ourselves in that situation. The Greek Cypriots behaved disgracefully, but this is not an ideal world. For Erdogan to go on grinding on the Annan Plan—which was years ago, it’s over, it’s dead it’s finished—is absurd. He’s got to discover a new discourse on the Cyprus issue, but he isn’t going to do, he isn’t the man to do. I don’t see any prospect at all that there will be any change in the Cypriot situation if Erdogan remains.

 

CE: And do you consider it a possible likelihood that Cyprus would veto Turkey’s accession to the EU even if Turkey fulfills all criterions?

 

AD: Yes, of course yes. I mean, it’s the absolute blockade of formal accession to the EU. That doesn’t mean to say that there can be any other form of accession that we can craft that Cyprus can’t block. I’m much more interested in that debate than the formal, traditional one—which has already ground to a halt.

 

CE: What would, ideally perhaps, be an event or development that could re-interest Turks and the Europeans alike in not only solving the Cyprus issue, but in the greater framework have both parties interested in catching that alleged enthusiasm that was observable in the 1999-2005 period of relations?

 

AD: Well I think one’s got to be careful here for there were many highly reluctant parties that just barely accepted Turkey’s candidate status in 2005. They were always opposed to the accession. You can blame them for being crooked or jaded, but the idea that there was a glorious moment that all doors would be opened for Turkey was just historically not right and did not exist.

 

CE: But many Turks perceived and misconstrued it as such back then.

 

AD: Yes, I often used to go and say to Turks to just calm down and remind them that they weren’t there yet.

 

CE: Perhaps they didn’t see it as a done-deal, but it did seem that the path was yet and that—following the right reforms—the debate whether or not Turkey would eventually end up in the union was superfluous. All that mattered now, so they thought, was just carrying out the reforms and taking their place next to Croatia when it was set to join the EU—which is now going to happen in 2013, but without Turkey.

 

CE: Sir, thank you very much for taking the time to address these questions and comments. I’m sure I speak on behalf of my audience when I say that we are more than satisfied with your insights and commentary.

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