The Multilateralist

A new narrative on the EU and Turkey

Conversations about Turkey and the European Union normally start from the premise that Turkey wants membership in the affluent club more than the EU wants Turkey. All sorts of interesting economic, political, social debates ensue about whether it’s in Europe’s interest to welcome Turkey. Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan wants to change the conversation: He ...

Conversations about Turkey and the European Union normally start from the premise that Turkey wants membership in the affluent club more than the EU wants Turkey. All sorts of interesting economic, political, social debates ensue about whether it’s in Europe’s interest to welcome Turkey.

Turkish prime minister Recep Erdogan wants to change the conversation: He argues in a Newsweek piece that the EU needs Turkey at least as much as Turkey needs the EU:

At the end of this century’s first decade, we can observe how the locus of power has shifted in world politics. The G20 is replacing the G7 as the overseer of the global economy. The need to restructure the U.N. Security Council to be more representative of the international order is profoundly pressing. And emerging powers such as Brazil, India, Turkey, and others are playing very assertive roles in global economic affairs.

The European Union cannot be the one sphere that is immune to these changes in the balance of power. The financial crisis has laid bare Europe’s need for greater dynamism and change: European labor markets and social-security systems are comatose. European economies are stagnant. European societies are near geriatric. Can Europe retain power and credibility in the new world order without addressing these issues? [snip]

It’s been more than half a century since Turkey first knocked at Europe’s door. In the past, Turkey’s EU vocation was purely economic. The Turkey of today is different. We are no more a country that would wait at the EU’s door like a docile supplicant.

Some claim that Turkey has no real alternative to Europe. This argument might be fair enough when taking into account the level of economic integration between Turkey and the EU—and, in particular, the fact that a liberal and democratic Europe has always been an anchor for reform in Turkey. However, the opposite is just as valid. Europe has no real alternative to Turkey. Especially in a global order where the balance of power is shifting, the EU needs Turkey to become an ever stronger, richer, more inclusive, and more secure Union. I hope it will not be too late before our European friends discover this fact.

It’s a plausible argument to make at a moment when Europe is worried about its economic vigor and place in the world. And Erdogan could be right that the EU badly needs a shot of vitality, youth, and geopolitical brashness. But I can’t imagine this tack changing many minds in the EU. Many Europeans believe that the current Euro crisis emanated from a reckless and unstable periphery, and it’s hard to see them conjuring up the will to add to it.  

 Twitter: @multilateralist

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