As GIF, we use essential cookies for the provision of the Website and information society services. You may review the Cookie Privacy Notice for detailed information on the type of cookie used by GIF and purposes.

Food for Thought


Which Europe?: - The Future of the EU - Özdem Sanberk

I am very pleased to be addressing you once again. The theme of today’s discussions is ‘Which Europe’. Now, that might seem to be a question which does not directly involve Turkey and developments there. But I will argue here that it does and that what happens in Turkey may be of much greater concern to the future of Europe as a whole than is generally realised.

I think it emerged very clearly from yesterday’s discussions that Turkey today is a very different place from what it was few years ago. The accession process to the EU has played an important role in the evolution of Turkey during the recent years.

Then there is the wider international arena. Turkey’s regional role is a powerful, stabilizing factor in the lands around us and beyond it. Underpinning regional stability through trade, investments, economic cooperation and energy are key elements of Turkish foreign policy. Turkey’s commitment to the regional stability obviously also serves the interests of our European partners.

At this stage of the accession process it would normally be expected that solidarity with the EU in everything would dominate national life in Turkey. But because of signals we have received from the European leadership it does not. The Turkish application has hit the rock of the Cyprus problem. But Cyprus issue masks deeper opposition in some quarters. In many European countries, public opinion seems to be trapped in an outdated attitude to Turkey which some times borders on outright prejudice. The hostility in some quarters in Europe towards Turkey is a self fulfilling prophecy. The more often people tell us that we don’t belong in Europe and look elsewhere, the more our attitudes and orientations diverge from the EU. Then the European commentators say “Turkey is looking elsewhere.”

It is fair to say that basically the EU has no gravitational power, apart from trade and economy, over the imagination of Turkish society anymore, except perhaps for a few activities which do function successfully such as the ERASMUS exchange program for young people.

Yet the rest of Europe knew we were coming and for many years. Turkey’s policy from about the fifties until 2005 when the negotiations began was consistently directed at greater integration into Europe and membership of the EU. Economic policy for nearly half a century was designed with the EU customs union in mind, with a perspective of full-fledged membership, and as such it has proved a great success. The customs union, with all its imperfections has worked well for nearly a decade and a half and is among the main reasons for Turkey’s new prosperity. The Customs Union already gives us the ‘privileged partnership’ which some voices in Europe are calling for.

In view of all these developments are there strong reasons for supposing that Turkey will gradually distance itself from Europe and perhaps eventually even become an adversary? The answer to this question will not only depend on Turkey but also on the evolution of Europe too: its vision, moral sense, courage, and willingness to shape new futures rather than retreat into its past.

Despite the mood of gloom among the Turks in general and the Turkish civil service in particular, there are still those in Turkey who relish the adoption of the acquis communautaire as a quick path to reform and modernity. Mr Egemen Bağış, the minister in charge of the negotiations, announced a month ago that by 2013 Turkey will have complied with 90% or more of the acquis. We can do that even when the negotiations are blocked. Then the time will really have come to see whether the rather grudging formulation that “the EU will never accept Turkey even if it meets the conditions for membership” is actually true.

On the other hand, the EU in general and the Eurozone in particular is facing a somber and testing period of its own. So far the Lisbon Treaty has not created a sense of renewed impetus at the public and political levels. It will take longer to see whether or not the Lisbon Treaty and the structures it established, have created greater administrative and policy focus.

Meanwhile the EU is grappling with a much greater problem than anything it could have imagined a year or two back in the challenges to the Eurozone in Greece and perhaps two or even three other countries. While it seems to me unlikely that any country would inflict on itself the trauma of leaving the currency union, the crisis has exposed the degree to which EU countries and their public opinion still see things in national terms. If solidarity fails now, then for a generation countries like Greece could face a bleak future—and that lesson will not be ignored by the EU’s smaller and poorer members. Will this be a stimulus for greater cooperation and better solidarity? Or will smaller EU members try to find escape clauses to loosen the strings a little?

Europeans lived through such crises in the past and they succeeded in overcoming them. They can also overcome this one if they stick to the original philosophy which lies behind the European construction: That is to say solidarity and voluntarism.

It would help if there was more consensus inside the Union about the form of the EU’s future. The Germans and French want to press ahead to create a Euro-superpower with global influence. Though Germany’s immediate northern European partners tend to agree with this, there are many in the EU who do not share this view.

Britain does not want a super state. The small members of the EU are not interested in too. What much of the small members expect from the EU is a Europe of solidities, a Europe of prosperity, and peace. A Europe of liberties and fundamental rights. An environment friendly Europe.

In Turkey the real debate on this particular issue has not started yet for obvious reasons: There isn’t clarity as to the future of Turkey’s relations with the Union. But I think Turkey wouldn’t mind to be part of a Europe super power with global influence.

In fact many believe in Turkey that only with Turkey’s membership Europe can achieve a global political influence.

As far as I am concerned, I think that a super state Europe is a dream. For a Europe of 30 plus members other realistic formulas can be envisaged. I will come back to this after a while.

The issue of Turkish membership is in some ways the most interesting test the Union has faced, since opposition to Turkey comes mainly from Germany, Austria and France. An overwhelming majority of EU members do not share the views of the said three countries regarding the treatment of Turkish membership. Important number of countries favors Turkish accession in principle. If that majority is blocked or frustrated, it will tell us something about the distribution of influence in the Union over the most basic issues.

So let us turn a little to the good news. It is there, both in the slow incremental growth of the new Europe in industry, health and safety, education, welfare. If it could be made a reality in foreign policy—if the spirit of voluntary convergence and cooperation and dialogue was stronger in this area—I think the Union would feel more self-assured and would enjoy stronger endorsement by waverers. I mentioned Erasmus earlier. Through Erasmus, all across Europe (and ‘Europe’ in this case happily includes Turkey) a generation of young people is growing up whose personal experience and friendships transcend national boundaries and who share a common bonds and citizenship. ‘What happens in Erasmus stays in Erasmus’ they say. I think this fortunate generation will stay in Erasmus their whole lives and perhaps by doing so they will be able to open doors that are locked to us today.

What sort of Europe will they live in, in perhaps 20 or 40 years? It will not be a resuscitation of the Europe of Jean Monnets, Adenauers, Spinelli’s of 1950’s and 60’s. But it will be a worthy and more fulfilled successor to their Europe. It will be perhaps a multiple Europe.

Today, we have already several Europes. We have Euroland for the currency, an emerging Europe security and defense dimension, a Europe of the Schengen Treaty, and even a Europe of Home Offices. Not all members take part in all of them of them, So the new trend is clearly a Europe of multiple geographies and domains or a Europe of flexible or overlapping memberships but with a common spirit and a shared impetus and sense of direction. As Charles Grant of the Centre for European Reform puts it in a Europe of 27 or 30 plus members, membership will mean different things for different countries.

And Turkey, if it persists with its drive towards deeper constitutional liberalism and its focus on its European policy wit a vibrant metropolitan society and a strong industrial economy, will find a place for itself in such a Europe of flexible membership.

And what if it does not? The constants of geography, strategy and economics will link Turkey and the Europe together for a long time.

But if Turkey is deprived of its Western option, its ties with the Euro Atlantic world will be weaken and the regionalization and par voie de consequence radicalization of its foreign and domestic policy will become a reality sooner or later with consequences for the region as a whole.

Against this, If the Turkish accession process moves forward and proves a success, in a Europe of multiple geography, the EU can look forward to a future in which the enlarged Europe has neither been diluted nor weakened, but made stronger in a large area of peace, security, stability and prosperity and more united than it has been since the days of the great Roman Emperors.

Transcript of the speech Ambassador (R) Özdem Sanberk delivered at a Salzburg Global Seminars session on May 10, 2010