The Brexit vote and Turkey

The Brexit vote and Turkey

Some opinionated opponents of Turkey’s president immediately attacked him when he upped the rhetorical war of words with Europe with a challenge that he would ask Turks whether they wanted to continue the accession talks. Naturally, the United Kingdom and Turkey are not the same as regards the EU. One is in and talking about whether to exit while the other has been in EU’s perennial waiting room for accession, a process that the British premier recently suggested might only reach fruition by the end of the millennium. 

To claim that President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan mixed it all up and suggested Turks vote on whether to stay or leave the EU would be a grotesque fantasy for now. But an examination of the reasons for the support for Brexit underlines that if Turkey ever joins, there might be a similar discussion in Turkey eventually.

It is still too early to talk about the burden of EU regulations on Turkey, while that is a very serious concern in the U.K. In Turkey, indeed, there is very strong popular support for the country adopting EU norms, values and regulations and thus establishing a higher standard of living. Turkey’s civil society, for example, has been demanding the opening of accession chapters related to the judiciary and labor rights in the hopes that Turkey will usher in an era of higher liberties, achieve judicial independence and increase the standards of its peculiar democracy. 

For Turkey, the EU Commission, the European Parliament or the “bureautocracy” of Brussels are not instruments strangling the Turkish economy. Having not adapted to EU standards on everything from the environment to production, civil liberties to judicial independence, Turkey is still far from complaining that the EU’s regulations have become increasingly “onerous.” Turks sometimes also talk about artificial bans – such as the size of cucumbers – that would come with EU membership, but such discussions have been nowhere near the British EU-skeptics’ complaints on the ludicrous, truly infuriating or just awful regulations that stipulate one cannot recycle a teabag, or that children under 8 cannot blow up balloons, among other things.

However, like the conservative Britons who strongly oppose the transfer of sovereignty elements to the EU Commission, European Parliament or the “bureautocracy” if Turkey ever joins, Turks will inevitably complain about compromises from the perspective of sacred national sovereignty. The EU has managed to grow stronger with each and every crisis it has encountered since its inception by setting new rules, initiating new treaties and compromising each time on national sovereign competencies and enforcing the “bureautocracy” of Brussels.

Be it competition policy, intellectual rights and liberties covered by the copyright and patent law, common foreign, economy and banking policies, the creation of relevant Brussels-based institutions or the pertinent discussions to forge a common defense policy, every step has been a compromise on national sovereignty.

Like Turks, the British – as demonstrated by their refusal to join the eurozone and give up their national currency – have been rather sensitive on this issue. Indeed, if not for anything else, Turks might understand well why Britons considered abandoning a club which while they were giving with one hand – in direct and indirect contributions – they were getting more with the second hand through many ways.

Still, if the EU Commission and the EU bureaucracy were created by the “political mechanisms” of the member states and thus are not accountable to voters of any of the member states, giving the commission and the bureaucracy powers above national legislatures is incompatible with the notion of national sovereignty.

The argument that the EU is a political animal imposing “left-wing” policies, or just the opposite, claim that with its antidemocratic structure, the EU “gives too much power to corporate elites” is a valid concern perhaps in the U.K. where there have been no democracy concerns, no “parallel” discussion or no challenge about establishing a super monarchy.

In Turkey, however, national policies, laws and even the constitution could be manipulated to fulfill the aspirations of an individual or the political movement he has been leading. Thus, the same EU mechanisms might be considered by Turks as a guarantee against a super president or a dictatorial takeover. 

The concern about migrants, or the euro allergy of the Britons, also contradict sharply with the readiness of Turks to embrace the euro even before membership and the exemplary treatment it has been extending to well over 3 million Syrian refugees. 

Obviously, the results of the British vote could not be foreseen ahead of time, but if Turks ever asked to vote on whether to continue the accession talks, I believe there will be a clear yes, as the EU has long become the strongest anchor and perhaps the last hope for democratic governance in this country.