Cameron provides Turks with food for thought

Cameron provides Turks with food for thought

There is much food for thought for Turks in what Prime Minister David Cameron said on Jan. 23 in his long-awaited speech on the EU. There is also a glaring contradiction for Europeans annoyed by his call for a referendum on whether Britain should stay in or leave the EU.

Countries that are hostile to Turkey’s EU membership have been arguing that it is the democratic right of their people to decide finally whether this should happen or not. Ironically, however, the same countries are angry that the British people should be given a chance to exercise their democratic right to decide if they will remain in the Union or not.

Developments in Europe show that the day EU members can have their cake and eat it, too, is over; and not just in the metaphorical sense. This is the point at which the following remarks by Cameron ring true to Turkish ears:

“The first purpose of the European Union – to secure peace – has been achieved and we should pay tribute to all those in the EU, alongside NATO, who made that happen. But today the main, over-riding purpose of the European Union is different: not to win peace, but to secure prosperity.”

As an aside here, Cameron’s reference to NATO provides a reminder for those opposed to Turkish EU membership that it was Turkey’s frontline position in this alliance during the Cold War that also contributed to peace and stability in Europe.

To return to the topic at hand, however, it must be underlined – as I have argued on many occasions – that the principal locomotive for progress in terms of democracy and human rights in this country is no longer the EU, as it was once when Turks had a clear desire for membership.

That desire has been seriously dampened, primarily due to the prevalent Turkish belief, based on what has been seen and heard, that the EU’s doors will never open for Turkey. Today, progress in democracy or human rights – or the lack thereof – is driven by the country’s own inner realities, and domestic pressures provide the principle dynamic here.

The sorry state in the area of freedom of expression, for example, proves that the EU, whose “progress reports” are now trashed by members of the ruling party rather than being taken seriously as they should, has little influence left over Turkey.

That aside, however, the importance of the “economic carrot” that the EU perspective once provided has also diminished for the average Turk, who looks on what is happening in countries such as Greece, Portugal, Ireland and Spain, and asks some simple questions.

The inevitable one that springs to mind first is how the EU, which was always touted as the “instrument of prosperity,” alongside the peace and political stability it provided, has turned into a place where people are rapidly getting poorer.

It is true, of course, that Turkey still depends significantly on Europe for trade and investments as EU diplomats are keen to underline. This, however, is not something that is given by the EU to Turkey as a privilege. An economically strong Turkey will always attract investments from Europe, and in return invest in Europe, as it is doing today.

Meanwhile two-way trade will continue regardless of whether Turkey becomes an EU member or not, and is more likely to drop, as it is doing today, due to factors pertaining to Europe, and not Turkey.

Given this overall picture, it is not hard to see that until the EU resolves its current inner contradictions and institutional problems, and charts its new future – as it will have to because, regardless of Britain’s special situation, most Europeans have no alternative – Turkey’s EU perspective will remain dormant.

It will only become clear if Turkey has a place in the EU or not once Europe decides realistically what its future is to be. Either way, the answer to this question is not as crucial for Turks as it might have once been.