Brexit: Turks are not coming

Published 21.06.2016 00:37
Updated 21.06.2016 01:11

Using the 'Turks are coming' scare tactic to dissuade the British electorate from voting no on the referendum is lamentable

This could be a funny scenario for a low-budget comedy film. The main argument between opponents and proponents of Britain's exit from the EU has become Turkey's future in the EU. Brexit supporters have started to advertise that Turkey was on the verge of becoming a full member, whereas supporters of the continuation of EU membership retort that it is not a possibility, not now, not in a thousand years.

British Prime Minister David Cameron has taken the lead of this very clever rhetoric, which might at the end become extremely dangerous for everyone, except Nigel Farage, the leader of the U.K. Independence Party (UKIP), and other extreme-right buffoons. What the U.K. expects from the EU is one thing, what role Turkey wants to play for the EU's future is altogether another thing.

But who cares. We live in very nefarious times. What was seen as politically and ethically unacceptable some 20 years ago has become daily routine today. For the first time in history, a political figure has been assassinated over a debate on European integration. Labour Deputy Jo Cox was stabbed and killed because she was campaigning to keep the U.K. in the EU and for helping the refugees. This alone should be sufficient to show the degree of tension, intolerance and immaturity the political debate has reached in Europe and other countries.

Using the Turks-are-coming scare tactic to dissuade the British electorate from voting no on the referendum is lamentable. Professor Michael Dougan from the University of Liverpool Law School defined the debate on the referendum as "dishonesty on an industrial scale," considering the claims and counter claims from each side. As Dougan's very well-timed intervention shows, appurtenance to just any international organization, be it the United Nations, NATO or World Trade Organization (WTO), requires a certain amount of trade-offs. Independent, sovereign countries decide to become part of international organizations in order to exercise more influence and have better strength internationally. In the ever globalizing world, such cooperation and interpenetration is not only suitable, it remains a must.

The alternative is always there, and unfortunately can give way to many phantasms. Isolationism looks very attractive in times of crisis. In 1931, if the devaluation of the German mark could have been decided by the German authorities, Adolf Hitler would have remained for what he was his entire miserable life: A lunatic known only to a couple of hundred other lunatics. But isolationism took over and gradually everything has been lost. The European civilization has committed suicide over two world wars.

On the other hand, Turkey's accession negotiations have come to a deadlock, even if new chapters are opened. The explanation is simple, as European integration is based on conditionality. Membership requires a great number of conditions to be sufficiently fulfilled, like the Copenhagen criteria, for instance. But the list is very long and very detailed. It is not possible to establish a healthy relationship between Turkey and the EU by only taking realpolitik into consideration. Cyclical relations and rapprochement cannot take the place of a deep-running, transformative integration process. Neither the EU nor Turkey are willing to engage again in this genuine integration system framed by accession negotiations.

This may look like a temporary setback. Setbacks are numerous in EU-Turkey relations. However, these relations have never reached the degree of accession negotiations before, and a setback at this level will have deep-running negative effects. Already, the situation of the debate in the U.K. remains eloquent in this vein. The U.K. was a country where all the major political forces, Labour, Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, were in support of Turkey's ultimate membership. Without the dexterous management of British diplomacy, the accession negotiations would have never been opened in 2005 in the first place.

The evolution of accession negotiations, sabotaged by a number of member states and Ankara's growing reluctance to continue the reform process for EU harmonization have created today's situation in which a country and its people are demonized to keep the U.K. in the EU or to get it out of the EU. This is a very sorry and dangerous situation that shows the importance of EU principles and reforms. Some EU member states can be far away from these principles and policies, but this does not create any consolation for Turkey. The Turkish government will be extremely inspired to start working seriously on EU reforms and the harmonization process even if the EU is not willing to support Turkey in its endeavor. It is now time to implement Ankara principles, if such political will is still there.

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