Monday 6 April 2009

America, the 28th Member State?

I had restrained myself when Obama gave his support to Turkish membership of the EU. Sure, it's diplomatically impolite, but I tried not to take much notice. However, while flicking around news channels, I saw a discussion on CNBC (which is about finance, so I've never watched it before) about Turkish-American relations and Turkish entry to the EU.

Verdict? Europe was being to stubborn and unreasonable - and there seemed to be an almost complete ignorance of what the EU actually is.

The question was [paraphrasing from memory] "now that Obama has pushed for Turkey to be admitted, or at least called for Turkey to be admitted, into the European Union, will that increase Turkey's chances of joining?". There was no reference made to the French or German reactions to Obama's - well, I'd like to call it a gaffe, but has there been any recognition to this outside of Europe?

Turkish membership was discussed purely as a way of "reaching out" to the Islamic world. I'm a big supporter of Turkish entry, but I wouldn't support it if it was just a gesture of "reaching out". It was never said, but the discussion and the questions gave me the sense that Europe was being obstructionist; Turkey was co-operating; would Europe risk endangering the success of Obama's reaching out?; can't Europe see how good it would be to reach out to Turkey and the Islamic world?

First of all, why is EU membership being spoken of as a US foreign policy tool? It seems so obvious that to point it out is almost idiotic, but it seems that it has to be done - the US is not an EU member. Though it would make more difference if I told them...

Second, membership is not a token gesture awarded to countries to make them feel better (in fact, how could an empty gesture make much difference in international diplomacy?): EU membership means a high degree of economic integration, along with elements of political and cultural integration (Turkey would probably make the "big 3" a "big 4"). Membership is a huge step, and it should only be granted when the candidate country is able and willing to take on the obligations as well as the rights - it's not something dreamt up to be used purely for some touchy-feely exercise of "reaching out".

And I'm surprised at this. I don't hold American journalism in particularly high esteem (why watch CNN when you can watch the news?), but America has been the source of a lot of literature on the EU/Europe, both academic and popular, and the American public generally reads more books on China, Europe, geopolitics, etc. than European publics. And you would think that a financial news programme would be aware of the workings of the EU, and how political decisions can impact on economic ones.

They did have a French political analyst, who just kept insisting that it was a "sensitive issue" in Europe, without explaining the significance of membership. Still, a casual knowledge of the EU would help if you're going to report on it. Must do better.


  1. The only new thing about Obama's invitation was that it was made by him, because all the American administrations I can remember have supported Turkey's entry into the European Union for reasons of US geostrategic interests.

    Having been brought up to think that it is bad form to invite guests to your neighbour's party, I think the only way to make Americans realise the challenges is by reversing the situation:

    Let them adopt Turkey and Mexico, with loud and clear endorsement from Europe.

  2. Hey Eurocentric, thanks for the comment on Constitutional Lore. Coming here to your blog I see we've covered a similar topic. Interesting post. I was wandering why you considered it diplomatically impolite to opine on the trade blocs of others? Why shouldn't European leaders have an expressed opinion on integration in North America, or on whether ASEAN should continue to allow Burma within its ranks?

  3. @fidge: I guess the difference is that many here in Europe do not see the EU simply as a trade bloc, but us the foundation of a federal state. European leaders have actually expressed very often opinions about other trading blogs and support the building of institutions similar to the EU around the World.

    Nonetheless, by now the EU is much more than a free trade zone. It is unlikely that the Turkish citizens now how much power suddenly supranational institution would have over Turkey after they become a member.

    What is the Turkish military going to do in the case that the European Court of Human rights orders Turkey to allow everybody everywhere to speak Kurdish, whenever they want? In this is only one of an unlimited amount of problems that would arise. And I haven't even started to discuss the general problems with any further enlargement end the institutional paralysis of a system that was created for maybe 10 Nations to find common ground but not for 27 or 28 or 29. The Gasbags on CNBC are likely to know squat about this.

  4. @ fidge

    Hi. Sorry that I didn't leave a more substantial comment, but I couldn't think of anything to add.

    I find it diplomatically impolite because EU membership is a deep level of integration even without the hopes some hold for political Union. The free movement of workers/citizens in itself a hugely significant mechanism for integration, along with the Schengen Agreement - it will be akin to abolishing border controls between the US and Mexico. This in itself should indicate that there is a wide range of social, economic and political issues attached. This isn't just a privilaged partner status for trade, or a foreign economic policy - the breadth and depth of such a move means that it's much more about domestic policy than foreign policy.

    And it is a big deal when another country says that you should speed up the process of integration of 70 million people, most of whom are relitively worse off than the current citizenry, into a common market with you - glossing over all the technical and legal issues which need to be resolved just for it to work correctly, just as a gesture of "reaching out" - this is more about America feeling better about itself than Turkey being better off.

    There may or may not be more political aspects to the union in the future, but the depth of economic integration means that it can't help but be a political issue anyway. I've written sketchily about the difference between free trade and a single market before ().

    @ rz:

    Turkey is already a member of the Council of Europe - and so also the ECHR. A lot of the discussion of rights and the EU is either based on economic rights (the four freedoms) or on the possibility of integrating the ECHR (the Convention, not the court) to some degree into Community law.

  5. Forgot to add in a link to my previous post on the difference between free trade areas and the single market.