Do or die with the EU?
President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had declared that he would put Turkey’s EU membership process to vote in case the “yes” campaign won the April 16 referendum on Turkey’s shift from a parliamentary system to a presidency. Since 51.5 percent of the Turkish people said “yes” last Sunday, now the question is whether Turkey will really part ways with the EU.
There is already a country that has walked down the same road: Britain voted on its EU membership last summer, which resulted in the Brexit decision. Yet today the situation the country is enmeshed in gives a lot of clue to track.
British Prime Minister Theresa May announced last week that the country will hold early elections on June 8.
However the very same Mrs. May had declared previously that she was against early elections and the elections would take place as envisioned in 2020. Therefore the Brits are puzzled.
This will be a referendum on Brexit rather than usual elections, first of all due to the fact that May had become prime minister thanks to the Brexit result. Her predecessor David Cameron was pro-EU, who therefore had to resign following the Brexit vote. He was later replaced by May, who was initially also standing against Brexit.
Even so May made a sharp U-turn and started to vigorously advocate leaving the EU. In addition, she assigned pro-Brexit politicians to key ministries. On top of that, last March she signed the official Brexit letter to begin the divorce from the EU.
Now May is calling for early elections mainly for the sake of Brexit. Her Conservative Party seems to be 20 percent ahead of the main opposition Labour Party. Hence the Prime Minister - who has only a working majority at the moment - is planning to hold a landslide majority in parliament, thereby strengthening her hand in the upcoming Brexit negotiations. Yet the truth of the matter looks to be different. First of all, in the last 10 months since the Brexit referendum, Britain has been in the interim and complete enigma. A road map on how to exit the EU has still not been settled.
It is this very ambiguity which has divided the Tories into three groups. The first one sides with staying in the EU. The second one prefers a “hard” Brexit, which means a complete cut of the economic and institutional links including the Common Market. The third group wants a “soft” exit. Accordingly, the right of free movement should be preserved and trade treaties should continue along with the U.K.’s membership at some EU institutions.
The very same division goes for the public as well. Plus, the destiny of the British economy is also concerning the British people. It is true that a major financial change did not occur in the last 10 months in Britain. However, this is mainly because Brexit did not begin yet. International institutions argue that the British economy will get seriously harmed once Brexit kicks off.
The reports published by the IMF and the OECD right after the Brexit referendum suggested that the rate of growth will decrease by 7.7 percent once Britain leaves the EU. According to their 2020-2030 projection, unemployment rate will also grow and U.K.’s exports will sharply decrease since 60 percent of its exports go to EU countries. Moreover, some major banks and companies have already started pulling out of Britain.
These all suggest that the votes of May might shrink on June 8, possibly paving the way for a “soft” Brexit. Yet a sharp decline in her votes could even trigger a second referendum on Brexit. This time, however, it would not be a big surprise if the Brits would go for the EU.
Let’s talk about Turkey. Just as 52 percent of the Brits said “no” and 48 percent said “yes” to the EU, the “yes” and “no” votes in Turkey’s referendum - divided almost evenly - could be reflected on the EU vote along similar lines. However, before taking such a radical decision, we shouldn’t forget the following: It is more than obvious that even Britain, one of the world’s strongest economies, will be shaken up by Brexit.
Moreover, the EU is by far Turkey’s number one import and export partner. Some 50 percent of Turkey’s exports are delivered to EU countries – just as Britain. In addition, most of the direct investment to the country comes from the EU.
Furthermore, in case Turkey decides to part ways with the EU, one of the two sides could freeze or even end the Customs Union. Last but not least, there are about 5 million Turks living in Europe. The already dominant far-right wave in the continent could get further whetted against these people. After all, the most important factor are the reforms Turkey has to carry out. Turkey’s accession process puts these internal reforms in a fixed calendar, thereby accelerating the process. To crown it all, EU perspective greatly enhances Turkey’s weight in the region.
Of course EU’s unjust and hypocrite manner toward Turkey at times for the last 50 years has seriously shaken Turkey’s confidence and hopes. Yet still, against all odds, Turkey’s interests certainly dictate to continue her accession process. So let’s do with the EU.