EU allowed Brexit by turning back on Turkey

THE EDITORIAL BOARD
ISTANBUL
Published 25.06.2016 00:23
Updated 25.06.2016 00:24

On Thursday, British voters shocked the world by supporting Britain's withdrawal from the European Union. The pound fell more than 10 percent and hit $1.3236 - a record low since 1985. Britain's big banks plunged as much as 30 percent. Stock markets in Germany, France, Italy and Spain dropped by 9 to 11 percent, as Turkey's BIST experienced a 4 percent decline. Donald Trump, who traveled to Scotland to formally open his new golf resort, said Brexit was "a great thing." Sarah Palin agreed. Lindsay Lohan? Not so much. But her involvement speaks volumes about the significance of Thursday's vote. Oh, and Prime Minister David Cameron, who called for the referendum to appease the extreme right, announced his resignation.

Whether you like Brexit or not, everyone can agree that the EU project is not working. Once mankind's best hope to facilitate economic cooperation and promote peace between former enemies, the organization has officially run into a concrete wall under the supervision of incompetent, short-sighted populists who failed to identify and protect the continent's vital interests. Instead of addressing pressing problems, the Union leadership has been trying to sweep them under a pile of papers created by the worst bureaucracy since the Soviet Union.

Today, the EU is a shadow of its former self. Brussels no longer represents a source of economic and political stability as millions of people around the continent question the judgement of EU leaders. People like Donald Tusk and Martin Schulz have virtually taken no steps to de-escalate the war in Syria, which has become a training ground for European extremists. Keeping in mind that their predecessors had been fooled by Greece and other countries only to end up with a full-blown debt crisis in their hands, people have a right to question whether people in Brussels know what they are doing. Blaming Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage might help people clear their conscience, but European leaders clearly paved the way to Brexit.

To make matters worse, the Brits are not alone. Just hours after the vote count ended, right-wing politicians in France, the Netherlands and Italy called for similar referenda. The reasoning behind giving Brussels some powers was the understanding that the EU could promote the common good, many Europeans believe. But they are reluctant to jump on the EU bandwagon now that there are serious doubts about the driver's skills.

In retrospect, giving Turkey a fair shot at full membership instead of pushing Ankara around in the late 2000s could have avoided many problems Europe faces today. The introduction of Turkey as a competitive and dynamic force in the European economy would have allowed the EU to recover from the financial crisis, which it is still grappling with. At a time when the Middle East poses a serious risk to Europe's political interests and security, a partnership with Turkey could have made Brussels more relevant at the world stage. Finally, Turkey's EU membership could have eased tensions between the Christian establishment and the Muslim minority to curb extremism, promote integration and prevent the rise of the extreme right.

By subjecting Turkey to double standards, European leaders including Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy alienated a potential ally with regional clout, fueled fears about an impending Muslim invasion of Europe and ultimately created the monster of right extremism that now comes back to haunt the continent. The day of reckoning has arrived.

Whether Britain made the right decision will become clear once the dust settles. But there is no denying that Thursday's referendum marks a turning point in European history. In the wake of British withdrawal, the EU is compelled to make a choice between giving up the original plan to create tightly-knit, strongly centralized union or succumb to the wind of protectionism, nationalism and isolationism that blows more strongly than anytime since the late 1930s.

Europe's road map, by extension, will determine Turkey's course of action. Having publicly endorsed the remain campaign ahead of Thursday's historic vote, the Turkish government now must decide whether to continue membership talks with a notably weaker and confused organization or start shopping around for alternatives. To stop Turexit, which Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan brought up earlier this week, European leaders will have to prove they mean business.

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