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“Europe is doing its level best to tell Turkey it is no longer wanted as part of the European Union. It is a high-risk game with little to gain and a great deal to lose”, writes Denis MacShane, Labour MP for Rotherham and Britain’s Europe minister between 2002 and 2005.
“The mishandling of ‘the Turkish question’ would seem laughable were it not so important”, argues Mr MacShane. “An independent Turkey, free of ties to the EU could clash with European foreign policy goals by aggressively pursuing its interests in the Mediterranean or the Middle East.”
Do you agree with Mr MacShane? Is it time for Turkey’s friends to rally round and prevent it being shut out of the EU? By making an enemy of Turkey, would Europe make solving the problems in Iran, Iraq and Israel-Palestine more difficult?
Mr MacShane answers your questions below.
The French Parliament just passed the proposal to criminalise the denial of Armenian Genocide. What are the implications for future EU-Turkey relations and Turkey’s enthusiasm to undertake EU reforms. Finally, how does this law fit in freedom of speech which European leaders preach to Turkey?
Karabekir Akkoyunlu, Cambridge, UK
Denis MacShane: I wonder what Voltaire would say to the idea of a group of politicians deciding what was and what was not history. The French parliament decision (I don’t think it has yet been agreed) is as foolish as the prosecutions in Turkey of writers who believe the Armenian massacres should be openly discussed.
Maybe the kind of ultra right-wing nationalist lawyers who attacked me when I was in the court room with Orhan Pamuk should apply to become French socialist politicians - they seem to share the same illiberal view that history cannot be discussed as a matter of debate rather than having to obey a state interpretation of the past.
Would Turkish or any other Asiatic entry into European institutions dilute and compromise for more than one generation the cohesiveness, standards, and effectiveness of democracy in Europe, and kill forever the efforts for deepening of European integration, particularly in the crucial fields of common defence and foreign policies?
Paul Kouts, Athens, Greece
Denis MacShane: No what is needed for Turkey to join the EU is that European democratic norms spread to Turkey.
Almost every country that has joined the EU has been accused by some of lacking in democracy, or rule of law, or plagued by corruption and criminality. But every country that has entered the EU has seen its performance in all those areas improve.
If anything Turkey would improve Europe’s CFSP. There is no common EU approach to Syria and many European troops are refusing to fight as real fighting soldiers in Afghanistan. Turkey has experience and wisdom in the troubled Middle East region and would add to Europe’s ability to solve problems in this part of the world.
On several occasions the Turkish government has proposed opening the Ottoman archives, and bringing the issues of the alleged Armenian genocide to a conclusion on a historical basis. On every occasion Armenia has rejected this offer. If the events of 1915 are so important, why does the EU not push for this to be settled, as proposed by Turkey and historians? This would very much aid in bringing to light the reality, and possibly help in the reconciliation process.
Attila Kadikoy, Istanbul, Turkey
Denis MacShane: I agree. Turkey and Armenia should open all archives and ask a joint panel of historians from different countries to produce a report.
Is there any consensus among MEPs on what privileged partnership (as opposed to full membership) would involve? If so what are they?
Yuko, Yoshimura, London, UK
Denis MacShane: No there is not. It is a waffly phrase that can mean anything and nothing. The big issue I guess is the size of Turkey’s population and the weight Turkey would have in taking collective EU decisions. But these can be solved.
Since the EU is a union of sovereign, democratic states each of which has a veto over enlargement, how can Turkey possibly join without a settlement of the Cyprus issue acceptable to Greek Cypriot public opinion?
Ed Kelly, Hungary
Denis MacShane: Leadership, leadership, leadership. Cyprus wants a resolution of the occupation of northern Cyprus by 30,000 Turkish troops. That won’t happen with Turkey being kept out of the EU.
It is interesting to note that while most, if not all, of the EU’s member states consistently support human rights with regards to the Kurds and the Armenians, it is some of those very same members who are reluctant to take the biggest step toward ensuring a Turkey that respects humans rights for all its citizens, that is, supporting Turkey’s membership bid. Isn’t that hypocritical? Why have none of the members who support Turkey’s entry attempted to use this to turn the opinion of Turkey’s non-entry supporters?
Anthony Imbrogno, Dublin, Ireland
Denis MacShane: I agree. One of the most unpleasant aspects of the Turkish question is the anti-Muslim tone to many of the comments - if not public statements by top politicians, certainly in media treatment of the Turkish question.
In Britain, for example, both main parties support Turkey’s entry into the EU. But the Conservative Party was taken a strongly eurosceptic turn under its new leadership and wants to break links with all sister right-wing parties in Europe. This means that no-one in a centre-right government in Europe will bother to listen to the UK Conservatives when they make the case for Turkey.
In addition for Turkey to join we will need changes in the EU treaties. But many on both the right and the left of politics oppose any new constitution treaty or insist they must be validated by a referendum. Thus even Turkey’s nominal friends place obstacles in the path of eventual EU membership.
Turkey’s admission to the EU is an investigation to the boundaries of an enlarged Europe. Where will it end? Do you think that incorporation of the Caucasus nations of Georgia, Armenia and Russia are the end game and will Europe’s border one day be with Iran?
Daniel Parkes, Rochester, Kent, England
Denis MacShane: General de Gaulle defined Europe from the Atlantic to the Urals. Clearly the Black Sea is a European inland sea. I want Europe to engage with Iran.
In general, European democracy works osmotically - that is its influence spreads imperceptibly. My goodness, imagine a Middle East where states and people could live by, with and under more European norms of democracy, peaceful achievement of political goals and rule of law. Ambitious? Sure and why not?
The EU is a club of more-or-less equal member states, some of whom don’t want Turkey to join. How can these countries be brought around to supporting Turkish entry, and should efforts focus on convincing their governments, or their populations at large?
Peter Davies, London
Denis MacShane: In the end, Turkey over the next few years will have to demonstrate to all EU governments and populations that the process of reform and modernisation in Turkey will make Turkey a welcome EU member state. What Europe must avoid is putting new barriers in the way.
The French national assembly is today debating a motion proposed by the Socialists that to deny the ‘genocide’ in Armenia will be a crime in France. This is patronising, ahistorical, and will only make the French national assembly a laughing stock if adopted.
But Turkey needs to do more on the public diplomacy front and be less prickly. It was a wrong decision of Ankara, for example, to stop a European parliament delegation going to Turkey because there was a Cypriot MEP in the delegation the Turks didn’t like.
Do you really see Turkey becoming a member of the EU within 10 years?
Can Akalin, Toronto, Canada
Denis MacShane: Depends. If Turkey really can move forward, why not. It took 15 long years between the fall of the Berlin Wall and the new democracies of eastern Europe becoming EU members. In European time, 10 years is the blink of an eyelid.
Do you agree that in order for Turkey’s application to join the EU to proceed any further than it has done to date, Turkey must, without further prevarication, unconditionally and formally recognise the official, UN recognised governments of all EU members, including that of the Republic of Cyprus?
Vas Piccou, London, UK
Denis MacShane: Yes I do believe that just as I believe that the EU must without further prevarication, unconditionally and formally implement its sovereign decision of April 2004 to open trade with northern Cyprus.
Do you believe Turkey is ready to join the western-style democracies of Europe, when it is still engaged in persecution of its intelligentsia and minorities?
Karineh Grigorians, London, UK
Denis MacShane: Part of the terms of joining the EU is precisely that writers can write and minorities do not face harassment provided they obey rule of law and do not support violence and terrorism. But it is to help move Turkey in that direction that its EU membership bid is so important and the insults and condescension from European right-wing politicians so dangerous.
As a frequent visitor to Turkey, I agree with your analysis of Turkey’s problems. I think you could also have mentioned the problem of the economy, the problem with the Kurds and the attitude of the army. A new general chief of staff of the army, General Yasar Buyukanit has recently taken office and the Economist dated October 6, noted that the army are getting restless. What do you have to say about these issues?
Karen Hastings, Cardiff, Wales
Denis MacShane: Many EU member states have had problems with groups in their country who wish a different future - think Britain and northern Ireland or Spain and the Basque country. Also in the past 50 years since the Treaty of Rome some countries have had major problems with their military - think of the attempted putsch against the French government over the problems in Algeria in 1962.
But the obligation to respect European norms and values has been a great motor for democracy. The Turkish military must make clear they are under democratic, civilian rule and the political parties have to show they will respect Turkey’s republican secular traditions.
How aware do you think is EU, of the importance of having Turkey as a member? Do you also observe that Turkey’s importance for EU is underestimated in EU and overestimated in Turkey?
Berkay Ozcan, Princeton , New Jersey, US
Denis MacShane: It was General de Gaulle in 1963 who first opened the perspective of Turkey joining the EU. As so often with the General he was thinking decades ahead. I do not think there is an adequate understanding in most EU countries of the importance of Turkey. In Turkey itself, there is great opposition to accepting EU norms. I do not think Turkish politicians have been honest enough in spelling out the changes needed before Turkey can be an EU member.
Is it not the time to be honest with Turkey and be clear that full EU membership is not a realistic option right now, but start negotiating something that will give them the economic benefits of a privileged trading partner?
Richard James, London, UK
Denis MacShane: Turkey already has a trading partnership with the EU. It is not a question of whether Turkey joins now in the sense of the immediate future but whether Europe now spurns Turkey and completely discourages the reformers and modernisers in Turkey. There are many more years of hard talks ahead and Turkey also has to abide by its obligations and negotiate sincerely by repealing Article 301 of its Penal Code and accept that its relationship with the sovereign EU member republic, Cyprus, has to become a normal one.
Turkey has proved to be an unreliable ally during the war against terrorism in Iraq. Why do you think it has something new to offer in the case of Iran, Iraq or Palestine?
Leandros Papaphilippou, Nicosia, Cyprus
Denis MacShane: I would not like to list the EU member states that are not exactly 100 per cent allies on the war against terrorism in Iraq. Turkey has proved a strong partner with the democratic world on a number of key military interventions from the Balkans to Lebanon.
In the search of peace and an end to terrorism and lack of democracy in Iran, Iraq and Palestine I believe that Turkey has much to offer. After all, we Europeans (and our friends in the US) have not exactly got brilliant records.
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