Year XXXVII, 1995, Number 1 - Page 3
Turkey and Europe
The European Community, which following the implementation of the Maastricht Treaty has adopted the name of European Union, is an uncompleted political entity. Its vocation is federal, but it has not yet achieved this. As a result it possesses ambiguous features, and the perception people have of it, both within and without its boundaries, is likewise ambiguous. In certain circles the European Union is held to be a great political and economic actor on the world stage; in others it is considered little more than a legal fiction that hides a reality comprising divergent interests and an inability to take decisions. This same ambiguity can be found in the influence that the Union exercises on the states geographically closest to it, in the majority of which democracy is being painstakingly established but nevertheless remains fragile and immature. For these countries, the attraction of the European Union is sufficiently strong to raise the issue of radical political, economic and social renewal, but not enough to resolve it. For these countries the very existence of the Union at their borders unleashes forces for change, which however the decision-making inability of their institutions and the uncertainty that overshadows their future prevent from being sustained and promoted until they definitively win through against the forces of authoritarianism and reaction.
This is the mechanism by which first the Community, and then the Union, has always possessed a sort of virtual foreign policy, comprising unfinished projects and unfulfilled expectations. Clearly, this observation can not undo the fact that in the post-war period the European integration process has extended itself by involving a growing number of countries, guaranteeing them almost half a century of peace and economic growth. But today the Union is faced with a series of decisions, and forced to assume responsibilities, that the weakness of its institutional framework (which has remained in substance intergovernmental) prevents it from coping with. The contradiction (which moreover has always existed) between the policy that the Union should implement, and the one it actually does implement, therefore becomes ever more evident, until it has assumed in certain instances the characteristics of high drama. This has happened in ex-Yugoslavia, in the Union’s relations with the countries of the Middle East and the Maghreb, and in its relations with its partners in the Lomé Convention.
In such a perspective, it is important to consider the case of Turkey, a country with which the European Union can not avoid having a relationship of ever closer integration, but whose European vocation remains ambiguous and a source of friction precisely as a result of the haphazardness of Union policy. The problem of relations between Turkey and the European Union has recently been brought into the foreground by the difficult customs union agreement that was signed on 6th March. Its provisions include a commitment to start negotiations (within six months of the end of the intergovernmental conference for reforming the Maastricht Treaty) for admitting Cyprus into the European Union.
This agreement could assume historic significance, in as much as it would establish the basis for solving a problem which in the past has generated explosive tensions, and which neither the United States nor the UN have been able to solve. The accord remains fragile, in part because the policy of repression carried out by Ankara’s military against the Kurdish regions of south-east Anatolia, and more generally Turkey’s poor human-rights record, provoke justified concern in Europe, and have induced the European Parliament to refuse its consent, which is indispensable for the agreement to take effect. Nevertheless, this episode demonstrates in outline how formidable an instrument for resolving conflicts the Union’s capacity to integrate new states into its structure could be, if only this structure disposed of the necessary solidity to make its enlargement compatible with an effective ability to act.
The problem of Cyprus is but one aspect of the wider issue of relations between Turkey and Greece. These two states are opposed by a historical enmity which is now attenuated by the latter’s membership of the European Union and by the former’s interest in entering it. For the future, only their common membership of a single federal structure within a European framework can definitively overcome their traditional rivalry. This goal is not close at hand – and the customs union between Turkey and a European Union which for the time being is maintaining unaltered its intergovernmental institutional make-up, represents no more than a small step in this direction. Nevertheless, this step is sufficient to facilitate an appreciation of the fact that by now not only Europe, but the entire world, has entered a phase in which the very idea of foreign policy is changing in nature. What is emerging on the horizon in the wake of the Soviet Union’s collapse and the resulting inability of the United States to shoulder, with its own means alone, the responsibility of guaranteeing a world order, however fragile and precarious this might be, is the crisis of the world system of states. As a result the aim of a responsible foreign policy, for whichever governments intend to play a positive role on the world stage, is no longer a balance between the existing states, but their unification in ever larger federal units. From such a viewpoint the European Community, in its various forms, has had the great historical merit of creating a pacified and economically integrated area which has increased, in little more than four decades, from six to fifteen members. Yet it also bears the grave responsibility of having been unable to give this unification process that political completeness and institutional framework which alone could have guaranteed the process’s irreversibility: and now it faces deadlines which, if missed, could frustrate the work of two generations, and bring down once again on Europe the scourge of nationalism, with catastrophic consequences for the whole of humanity. The Yugoslav tragedy provides a demonstration of what the consequences are, even in Europe, of a return to a foreign policy based on the pursuit of “national interest.”
Hence Europe must unite itself in order to unite the world. And for this to happen it must be born under a banner of openness and co-operation with the other regions of the world, and above all with those regions closest to it, taking care to avoid the danger of adopting an identity that could conflict with those of the other regional manifestations that everywhere are taking shape. From this viewpoint the contradictions of a complex and difficult country like Turkey will represent a decisive litmus test for the Union in future.
Turkey is a country balanced between pro-Europeanism and a deep-rooted nationalism which manifests itself, aside from its relations with Greece, in the violence with which Kurdish secession has been tackled. It possesses a democratic regime, which nevertheless has experienced periods of military authoritarianism in the past, and which continues to be unable to guarantee the degree of respect for human rights that would enable its rulers to present a satisfactory record to their colleagues in the Union. Its economy is going through a phase of rapid growth, which however is being paid for by serious social inequality and by an inflation rate that, even though it is in decline, still hovers around 130 per cent p.a. Turkey is linked by a common language to some of the ex-Soviet republics in central Asia and the Caucasus, towards whom it could play a moderating and pacifying role thanks to this special relationship; yet, in the present situation this common bond serves only to encourage imperialist temptations among certain circles in Turkey’s political class.
Turkey is therefore a country whose political, economic and social characteristics place it, as does its geographical position, astride Europe and Asia. It is also above all an Islamic country, with strong traditions of lay government and tolerance, but whose society, because of the tensions produced by its unruly, confused economic growth, has been infected by the plague of fundamentalism.
The destiny of Turkey will, in future, depend in large part on Europe’s decisions. If Europe can provide itself, at a necessarily gradual pace and through an initial core which will need to be restricted in number, with a federal structure that Turkey can later become an integral part of, then the Turkish economy will complete its modernisation, Turkey’s democratic institutions will be consolidated, the problem of Cyprus and of the Kurdish minority will be resolved through the creation of forms of self-government guaranteed by the European federal bond, and Turkish society will be able to strengthen its Islamic traditions of lay government, tolerance and openness. If Europe is unable to complete its construction, or nevertheless compensates for the weakness of its institutions with a policy of closure towards the outside, the contradictions of Turkish society will be exacerbated: nationalism, authoritarianism and imperialism will prevail over the European and democratic spirit of the Turkish people.
But likewise Europe’s future will depend to a considerable extent on its ability to extend the Union’s institutions and citizenship to Turkey. Europe has a significant unifying role to play in the Mediterranean, the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa. Moreover, it has the task of helping the peoples of the ex-Soviet Union to provide themselves with solidly democratic institutions and to re-establish among themselves the ties of solidarity that will permit this Eurasian region to assume the global responsibilities that befall it, so that the region can make its indispensable contribution to the unification of humanity. In fulfilling this task a decisive bridging function will fall to Turkey. In the case of the confrontation between Europe, and the countries of the Middle East and southern rim of the Mediterranean, Turkey’s status as an Islamic country will allow the religious and cultural barriers, which could hinder a dialogue between these two regions and make the successful outcome of such a dialogue doubtful, to be overcome with ease. The common language that Turkey shares with some of the ex-Soviet republics will make it the natural spokesman for Europe in its relationships with these countries.
The next task awaiting Europe is to create a federal core within the Union that will allow the process of its own enlargement to be turned into an effective factor for the unification of the human race, and not an element for disintegrating the degree of unity achieved so far. As part of this process, a reflection on Europe’s identity must play a key role; and this can not avoid looking at, among other things, Europe’s relations with the Islamic world. In order to deepen such reflections a firm, but open dialogue with an important country from the geographical, political, economic and cultural viewpoints, such as Turkey, is essential.