Bill Emmott - International Author & Adviser


Europe needs Turkey
Corriere della Sera - October 29th 2006

There is something strange about the debate inside our European Union about enlargement, and in particular about the negotiations with Turkey. It is that the idea of admitting new members is presented as if it is an act of generosity, a kind of philanthropic donation that this wonderful charity called the European Union is kindly offering. So when Europe feels less charitable, less in a mood to be generous, we start to talk about closing our doors, about rejecting new members. That is what may be about to happen to Turkey. But this is ridiculous, it is upside-down thinking. Getting new members is really an act of selfishness, of self-interest. We need Turkey. If we rebuff the Turks now, we will be hurting ourselves. 

            The president of the European Commission, Jose Manuel Durao Barroso, was right to tell Corriere in his interview this week that the talks with Turkey are going badly. The atmosphere surrounding these talks is itself bad, with France´s National Assembly voting to try to make it illegal for anyone to call the slaughter of Armenians in Turkey (or, rather, the Ottoman Empire) in 1915 anything other than a genocide. France has no more right to do that than Turkey would have to pass laws condemning Britain for our slaughters in India during the British Raj. There is tension too over Cyprus, over whether both Europe and Turkey are guilty of breaking an agreement made when Cyprus was admitted to the EU in 2004. And opinion polls in Turkey show a shift in Turkish opinion against joining the EU at all: if you don´t want us, people seem to be saying, then we don´t want you either.

            On November 8th, the European Commission is due to present its report on progress in the talks with Turkey. No doubt it will say that there are many problems. Meanwhile, those in favour of Turkish membership will say that if Europe were to "lose" Turkey it would be a tragedy for political reasons. It would show that the EU is a Christian club that doesn´t want Muslim members, and would represent a strategic loss to Europe of one of the Islamic world´s few democratic states. Yet to my mind, while these points are correct they are the wrong ones to emphasise. The right point to emphasise is economic.

            Think about it: just on the border of the European Union is one of the world´s fastest-growing economies. Since 2002 it has been growing at a rate of 7-8% each year. If this growth were to continue then the Turkish economy would double in size every decade. Its economy is only about one-fifth as large as Italy´s, but it is going to narrow that gap. However well the negotiations go, no one expects Turkey actually to be a member of the European Union for at least ten years, probably longer. So by the time it can join it could be more than twice as large as it is now. More important, from the point of view of the existing European Union members, so will be Turkey´s market for their exports.

            Last year, Turkey imported $116 billion worth of goods, which is less than one-third as much as Italy imported. But Turkey´s imports are growing by 20% each year, such is the demand in this fast-changing, developing economy. In a way, Turkey, with its population of 73m, is like a small version of China, with its one billion people. This week Jacques Chirac, France´s president, has been visiting China acting like a travelling salesman, trying to sell the Chinese lots of French goods. (Remember when General de Gaulle sneered that the Japanese were just a bunch of "transistor salesmen"?) There, right next to Europe, is another growing economy that needs lots and lots of industrial goods to feed its development. By the time Turkey is ready to join the EU, its imports every year are likely to be a lot bigger than Italy´s.

            That is why Europe needs Turkey. We need their market, we need a fast-growth economy in our midst, as part of our single market. We need it to stimulate competition in our own economies, but also to buy our goods. Enlarging to include Turkey would be a selfish act, not a philanthropic one. Let´s celebrate our self-interest: let´s get Turkey as part of Europe.           


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