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Turkey and the EU

On December 17, 2004 Turkey’s long-awaited dream took a critical turning point. After 41 years of tease, the European Union winked and offered a date for initiating membership negotiations. This relationship, and the Turkish ambition to join the European Union, dates back to September 1963 when the European Common Market, the pre-cursor to the European Union, and Turkey signed the Ankara Agreement. Since then, Turkey has witnessed three military coups (two proper ones in 1971 and 1980 and a “post-modern coup” in 1997), four devaluations of its extremely unstable currency and a 15 year civil war costing the Turkish Government more then $120 billion and claiming the lives of more then 30,000 people (mostly Kurds).

The news of the increased possibility that Turkey might join the EU made news around the world and raised predictable and mildly boring questions such as: is this the antithesis of “the clash of civilizations” or does this mean that Turkey will now recognize Cyprus? * But what are the real issues involved in Turkey’s entry into the EU that are being carefully tucked away?

Counter-What?

Is Europe a compassionate, multilateral and self-determining entity that strategically sets itself against an aggressive, unilateral and imperialist US? Not necessarily. Europe has participated in a number of recent battles, ranging from the First Gulf War to the bombing of Yugoslavia, not to mention its complicity in the UN sanctions on Iraq that have killed upwards of 1.5 million Iraqis, now forgotten in history. Italy, Poland and Spain have all contributed symbolically and Britain significantly to the most recent invasion and occupation of Iraq, reaffirming their commitment to US imperialism. While seemingly anti-war, both France and Germany have refused to take a firm stance against the invasion within the narrow confines of the UN.

Europe does take up a counter-position to the U.S. but it isn’t one of peace against war. Rather, European policymakers want to regain their historic position of domination within the economic realm against the United States. This strategy is ultimately one of neo-liberalism.

nEU-Liberalism

The European Union was conceived as a neo-liberal project and this has framed the conditions of Turkey’s entrance. Part of the Ankara Agreement was geared towards entrance into the European Customs Union (January 1, 1996) before entering into the Union proper. The Customs Union, like other free trade zones, removes tariffs and other so-called trade barriers, privatizes state run industries and makes labor markets “flexible.”

Economic prosperity, stemming from capital inflow, is one of the shams designed to sell the EU to Turkish citizens. Any capital inflow takes the form of portfolio investment for speculation rather than of direct productive investment and as such intensifies the fragility of the Turkish financial structure. Some supporters of the Customs Union and the EU argue that — unlike western hemispheric free trade agreements (NAFTA, FTAA, CAFTA)– the EU also guarantees free movement of individuals and not just resources and commodities. Currently, this principle is only talk.

“Freedom of movement” is the primary concern EU countries have over accepting Turkey into the EU, since ultimately it means a greater work-force for a limited number of desirable jobs. This concern is also why a 7-year waiting period was imposed on the 10 countries who joined the EU last May. The potential for complete “freedom of movement” is bleaker for Turkey, due to a huge youth population ready for work (25 million under 15), the large number of Turkish immigrants already in the EU (3.2 million), who would instantaneously become European citizens, and also the rise of xenophobic nationalist politicians such as Le Pen in France and Haider in Austria. With the hypothetical entrance year of 2014 and a 7-year waiting period, the earliest date for work-force movement would be 2021. (A previous date for “freedom of movement” of December 1, 1986 was agreed upon in the Ankara Agreement). Until at least 2021, and presumably later, capital will flow in and out of Turkey while people will be kept behind borders.

The talk of the impending EU membership is already pushing more neo-liberal policies on Turkey. On January 3, 2005 the EU announced its disapproval of generic medicine produced in Turkey. A week later on January 11, another ultimatum was issued: Turkey wasn’t fulfilling its promise to import 21.5 tons of meat per year from EU countries. Turkish officials argue that this is due to the threat of Mad Cow disease, a reasonable concern. Another, just as reasonable concern, is the undermining of the significantly large animal husbandry in Turkey. Now that Turkey stands on the threshold of full membership, the European Commission has a much greater pull on Turkey’s policy-making and the ultimatums appear in rapid-fire succession.

Unfortunately, constraints imposed by globalized capitalism and competition are slowly dismantling the European economics of social democracy. In this respect, it can be said that the European Union is becoming less European. This is happening from inside and outside of Europe. World Trade Organization rulings, such as the one against the preferential treatment European countries gave to former colonies, exemplify the external influences.

Internally, European lobbies for capital, such as the European Roundtable of Industrialists (ERT), form the European Commission’s major influence. In April 2000, at a meeting of the Trilateral Commission in Tokyo, ERT member Baron Daniel Jannssen (head of Belgian chemical firm Solvay) illuminated the interaction between the Round Table and the Commission, stating: “The Commission plays the lead role in many areas of economic importance and it is extremely open to the business community, so that when businessmen like me face an issue that needs political input, we have access to excellent Commissioners.”

Military Might?

The key to why there is a European push towards including Turkey into the EU is the military power that Turkey possesses. With 650,000 members, Turkey’s military is the second largest armed force in NATO after the US. The size of Turkey’s army is a direct product of long-lasting US military aid due to Turkey’s shared border with the former USSR. The geopolitical (mis)fortune has been continued in 21st century in which Turkey is now seen as the gateway to Southwest Asia, bordering Iraq. One thing that has remained constant in the past 50 years is the importance the Turkish geography has played for US imperialism, from the chilling Cold War to the burning War on Terror.

A European Commission report concerning the advantages and disadvantages of Turkey’s inclusion into the club stated that “with its expansive army it will be able to contribute to the EU’s security and defense policy.” (Radikal, October 1, 2004). Last year, Spanish Newspaper ABC asked the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Javier Solana: “Is there a place for Turkey in the EU?” Solana responded: “We need Turkey for our security” (Cumhuriyet, October 18, 2004). Incidentally, Solana is NATO’s former Secretary General.

While affirming that all military institutions are rooted in oppression of both populations and their members, the Turkish military is not the conventional army and could compete with Israel in its ferocity, dirty tactics and complete disregard for human rights. It has gained a significant expertise in organizing counter-insurgency groups, torturing and eliminating resistance movements within the geography of the Middle East. This experience is worth great value in the years to come. And if one theory around the war on Iraq is true, that the control over Middle Eastern resources is in fact about impacting the European economy, then Turkey is the trophy nation state.

Richard Boucher, then spokesperson for the State Department, said on october 9, 2002 “Because we’re not a member, we have no formal role in determining the European Union’s relations with third countries. We’ve long believed, however, that Turkey’s future is in Europe; it’s in the strategic interest of the United States and the European Union, of Turkey and the European Union, that Turkey and the European Union build the closest possible relationship.” The neo-cons in the US are calculating another state to add to their obedient, well-behaved and “new” Europe to contribute to the rift they have created. And the EU is accepting another Trojan Horse because it has the foresight to see that the control over Turkey will be an important battle in the years to come.

Human Rights the Wrong Way

The Turkish left has two main prevailing analyses of the EU debate. The first is an acceptance of Turkey’s ambitions to gain EU membership with fingers crossed, hoping for the best. This position posits the existence of a Europe different than defined by the neo-liberals: that while capital calls the shots there is a historical tradition of socialism rooted in society, from revolutionary thinkers to trade unions, and that solidarity within the European working class is the strategy to pursue. It is hard not to agree with this line of thinking but while there is more than one “Europe” there is only one EU; the one outlined above. The Turkish left is at a strategic junction where it will either choose to become obsolete or actively partake in European constructs such as the European Social Forum (ESF) and others who are actively working to define another Europe. The ESF and the Europe of working class solidarity and struggle does not require the EU, in fact requires the elimination of it.

The second is a flat out rejection of Turkey’s ambitions.

Yet why is there such broad support for the EU within Turkey? According both to private and to state-run surveys, support for entering the EU is between 70% and 80%. One factor which I will not go into much detail is an underlining longing and inferiority complex within Turkish society to become more “European” i.e. “modern” and sophisticated. The origins of this go to the formation of the Turkish Republic in 1923, when the multi-culturality of the Republic’s geography was rejected by the revolutionary cadre and a white Europeanness was imposed. Another reason for such strong support is that the same public that despises the IMF and its policies has been delicately shielded from the EU’s neo-liberalism. Yet a much more concrete reason for broad support also exists.

The first pro-EU rally was held in Diyarbakir, regarded as the capital of Kurdistan. Thousands of Kurds converged from around southeastern Turkey to say “Yes to Differences! No to Discrimination!” There is such a deep longing for certain rights in Turkey, namely freedom of speech, freedom from state terror, freedom to assert your ethnic identity, that this longing has overshadowed all other aspects of the EU. And to give credit to where it is due, pressure from EU authorities has resulted in the abolishment of the death penalty, the freedom of Kurds to speak and communicate in Kurdish, and a reformed and more humane criminal code. These are all crucial for a democratic and free society, but they need to be rooted in social struggle not in European bureaucratic imposition.

A conceivable scenario is a complete backfire resulting from years of partial acceptances, no freedom of travel and work in Europe and no full membership leading to an impulsive anti-EU backlash, a complete reversal of all reforms made and increased state repression in Turkey.

*Turkey has had a military presence in Northern Cyprus since 1974 when it invaded the island in response to a military coup initiated by a Greek military junta, effectively creating two separated populations. Since Cyprus was initiated into the EU with nine other countries last May, Turkey now faces the challenge of internationally recognizing the southern portion of the island.

ALI TONAK can be reached at: ali@riseup.net

Main sources for this article were:

Emrah Göker, “How the we get into a different “Europe” Gelecek, Worker’s Struggle (http://www.iscimucadelesi.net/),

Susan George, Another World is Possible If…

Andy Storey “The European Project: Dismantling Social Democracy, Globalising Neoliberalism

Issues of Turkish newspapers Cumhuriyet (www.cumhuriyet.com.tr), Birgun (www.birgun.net) and Radikal (www.radikal.com.tr).

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