An Orwellian new commission for Europe?

An Orwellian new commission for Europe?

Ursula von der Leyen, president-elect of the European Commission, announced the names of her commissioners this week. I was first struck by the name of the new job dealing with migration. It’s actually called the “vice-presidency for protecting our European way of life.” I like how it specifies “our European Way of Life,” rather than say, “the European Way of Life.” The Orwellian theme continues with the new commissioner for neighborhood and enlargement: Lazslo Tocsanyi, a dutiful follower of Hungary’s Victor Orban. I hope I’m wrong, but from the looks of it, it appears that the new commission will be accepting identity politics as its core.

Migration is a very contentious issue, not only for Europe, but for all of us around the world. It started with that seemingly innocent debate, I think best encapsulated by the subtitle of Christopher Caldwell’s 2009 book “Revolution in Europe: Can Europe Be the Same with Different People in it?” Can it? It was a reasonable question to ask, but it has taken a rather ugly turn. Brexit has come out of that divide, a surge of right-wing politics across the continent, and now this rather Orwellian new commission. All this is deeply concerning for the continental order that we in Turkey are a part of.

I was looking at the Kadir Has University Survey of Turkish Foreign Policy Perceptions the other day. Identity politics appears to be the reason why around 65 percent of Turks surveyed believe that Turkey’s European Union accession process was effectively blocked. Why? Some 54 percent of the respondents state that religion and identity differences are the reason behind the blockage. This is a major reason why 61 percent of Turks support the EU process, yet only 32 percent expect Turkey to become a member. It sounds to me like the new vice-president in charge of “protecting our European way of life” is there to make sure that the majority of Turks are proven right.

In the simplest terms, the task of protecting Europe’s way of life has to be about keeping non-European ways of life out of Europe. Simple. So if there are non-European ways of life trying to get into Europe, one must find an alternative place to put them into. A receptacle for non-Europeans, if you will. This is where Turkey shines. That is what the Turkey-EU migration deal is about. Willingly or unwillingly, we have turned ourselves from a transit country into a destination for migrants. Turkey is doing a great service to Europe by stopping the influx of around 4 million people (with presumably highly un-European ways of life) into the old continent. Of course, hosting such quantities of non-European life makes Turkey less European, and thus less suited to be a member itself. Working with Europe, in this case, places us further away from joining the economic and political bloc.

I’m happy to report, however, that the non-European life forms are adapting well to their new environment. Take the 15,000 Syrian-owned companies in Turkey. These are micro-, small- and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs), smaller in size when compared with Turkish SMEs. Each has on average six employees, 60 percent of whom are Syrians. These entrepreneurs become members of chambers of commerce and industry as Turkey has universal membership in the chamber system (an adaptation from the French and German example). By being part of the chamber system, Syrian entrepreneurs are also elected, by their Turkish competitors, as representatives of their line of business in the chamber system. Some have been elected as such and are doing well.

As another metric of settlement, take the rate of schooling among Syrian kids. Among the global refugee population, there are 7.4 million kids of school age, and 3.7 million of them are not enrolled in a school. In Turkey, 1.04 million, or almost one-third of the Syrian population, is of school age, and the enrollment rate stands at 61.69 percent. The enrollment rate of Syrian students in primary education is 96.3 percent - well above the worldwide refugee enrollment of 63 percent, but also above the global enrollment rate of 91 percent. Secondary education is trickier, since kids can, unfortunately, be working at those ages. Some 58.13 percent of appropriately aged Syrians in Turkey are enrolled in secondary education. This places them somewhere between 24 percent for worldwide refugees and 84 percent for the global enrollment rate.

Refugee flow is a drain on public resources and public services in Turkey. The issue appears to be local, but it is intimately related to Europe. If we are to have an honest relationship with our European partners, there needs to be real burden sharing.
An Orwellian Commission, obfuscating an exclusionary European policy, is the last thing we need.