TCS Daily

Growing Pains

By Helen Szamuely - December 21, 2004 12:00 AM

Right now we are all talking Turkey but that is not going to last much longer. The preliminary hoopla is over and we are all settling in for a long haul of at least ten, if not 15 years. During that time all sorts of complications will arise, not just with Turkey but with the other countries that are seeking accession -- Romania and Bulgaria -- and with the EU itself. The British presidency of the EU, that is due to start on July 1, 2005, will be devoted to trying to foist the European Constitution on the unwilling British people.

Strangely enough, the comment that we cannot tell what the EU will be like in ten years' time because of its own internal problems no longer elicits shrieks of horror from people who do any political thinking. What we are beginning to see is bemusement. Even people who think that Turkey joining the EU is quite a good idea for Turkey are well aware of the opposing arguments, that it is not such a good idea for the EU. But they rarely see what other solutions there might be.

Despite the chatter about the common foreign policy, the need to make Europe's voice heard, the special European values, the EU, in fact, has no idea what to do with other countries. The root of the problem is the nonsense of a common foreign policy when there are no common interests or, even, a common outlook on world affairs. And that goes back to Europe's diverse and often incompatible history.

Like certain biological organisms, the EU's existence is necessarily enlargement. Its much touted common foreign and security policy (CFSP) has to be proactive or cease to exist. Action without an obvious purpose is a dangerous element. Potentially, the EU's necessity to have foreign action and to keep enlarging because it sees no alternatives, is destabilizing.

The now-accepted idea that as soon as it is capable of doing so, the EU should send combat groups to sort out troublesome parts of the world in order to further the CFSP reminds one of nothing so much as the usual policy of a weak dictatorship: have a foreign adventure or two in order to take people's minds off the problems at home.

Nowhere is this vacuum seen more clearly than in the EU's dealings with the neighboring countries. Back in 1998 as the negotiations with the East European countries were coming into their own Bill Jamieson (then Economics Editor of the Sunday Telegraph) and I wrote a paper (A'Coming Home' or Poisoned Chalice?, published by the Centre for Research into Post-Communist Economies), in which we argued that enlargement to the east was not in anybody's interest, least of all the post-Communist countries. Instead, we said, the EU should take this opportunity to review its own ideological attitudes and start turning the whole structure into a series of free-market agreements.

Naturally, this was not accepted and we were criticized by, among others, the economic journalist, Sir Samuel Brittan, for producing a political and economic heresy. Early next year I shall be attending the 10th Central and Eastern European Forum, organized by Euromoney plc. The starting point of the conference is rather a sad one. The East European countries, having made enormous advances and achieved great successes in the ten years before their membership of the EU, are now finding that this "may prove a handicap in certain key regards". The malaise of the EU is now extending to take in the hitherto vibrant economies, as we predicted it would.

The conference is hoping to come up with some answers but the participants will be faced with one immovable obstacle: members of the EU can no longer think merely in terms of their own economy and what is best for them.

Why the problem became insoluble was the EU's inability or reluctance to think in terms of anything but membership for these countries and enlargement for itself. They had to be groomed to become EU members, whether it was the right course of action or not. At no time was there a suggestion at the political level that other relationships are possible with neighboring states.

Having missed the possibility of reassessment with the ten new members, the EU is at an impasse. If it offers less than potential membership to other countries this is seen as a slap in the face. If it cannot take the countries in and cannot even think of doing so in the near future, it has no policies. This explains the floundering over Ukraine. The Neighborhood Agreements give nothing and are there as a palliative to immediate neighbors in the east and not so immediate ones in North Africa.

Turkey is a large, fairly poor country with a history and culture that is very different from that of the European countries. The problems western Europe faced with the post-Communist states will be magnified. That is not to say we should just ignore Turkey or throw it the odd hand-out. It is an unusual country in that it is Muslim but relatively secular; it has been a staunch ally in the Cold War (though that was partly motivated by the knowledge that it was in the front-line); it is making strides towards democracy and a rule of human rights.

Will membership of the EU help in any of this? Probably not. Least of all will it be a help in ensuring that Turkey becomes a constitutional democracy, as the EU is not a democracy itself. It is a seriously flawed political entity and its faults are those already in existence in most non-European countries: lack of accountability, legislation by diktat, an endemic institutional corruption. How has becoming part of it benefited the East European countries? How will it benefit the Balkan states or Turkey?

Everybody understands that taking Turkey is problematic on many levels; but nobody can think of what else to do. The EU has no other alternatives. It has no particular reasons to stop after Turkey, though the chances are the whole project will collapse, should that membership ever come about. Whatever reason it will advance will be seen as an excuse. At the same time, this constant growth, accompanied by ever greater centralization will, inevitably, destabilize the whole area.


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