Brexit has made Turkey more important to the West

Brexit has made Turkey more important to the West

The Brexit campaign made a big issue about the unlikely scenario of a Turkey imminently joining the EU and 80 million Turks suddenly migrating to their island. At least some of the “leave” votes on Thursday must have been cast due to that fear. And paradoxically, Brexit made Turkey more important. Why? Because it has destabilized post-1945 Europe, and I think Turkey could help re-stabilize it. Let me elaborate.

Brexit was about migration, and lo, more migrants are coming, and will continue to come due to the unrest in the Muslim world. Ever since this flood of migrants across the Aegean, Turkey has become the gatekeeper of our mutual civilizations. The Schengen zone means that there is no way to stem the tide once the migrants are inside EU borders. That means that the EU’s borders can only be secured from the “near outside.” That near outside is Turkey.

All this means that the stability of Turkey is ever more important for the stability of Europe as we know it. Stability here has both political and economic dimensions. Turkey’s economic well-being is now in the interests of all of Western civilization, since only an economically and politically viable Turkey can integrate more migrants and control the tide of migrants to the West. I see this as a solid basis for confidence-building between Turkey and the EU. This is just the short-term issue, mind you. 

In the long run, I see an even more favorable environment in terms of EU engagement toward Turkey. There is something rotten in Muslim countries, and things are not likely to get better anytime soon, so refugees are likely to keep coming. We can try to stem the tide as much as possible, but if we want to stop it, we have to do something about the rot south of our border. This is about deradicalization, and integrating the Muslim world into globalization.

If the 20th century was about the integration of China into the global economy, the 21st century will be about the integration of the Muslim world into that global economy. The latter is what makes Turkey important to our Western allies in the medium term, if you ask me. Why Turkey? Turkey is the only Muslim-majority country that combines three characteristics. First, Turkey is an industrialized country in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Second, Turkey is a functioning open-market economy in MENA. Third, Turkey is a country where the ballot box determines the future. In our part of the world, only Israel and Turkey share these three characteristics. No wonder our people get along so well despite the political noise. 
Turkey’s importance to the EU has increased at a time when Turkey also desperately needs to be part of the EU. Turkey cannot be economically and politically stable with its current institutional architecture. Only by completing its European transformation can Turkey be stable and contribute to European stability. Easy? Not after Brexit. 

If one thing is sure, then it is that these decisions should not be left to demagogues, but be made through the careful, long-term consideration of elected leaders.