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European Union

Turkish myopia
Turks have much more in common with their Asian neighbors

December 26, 2004

This past week, a historic application for Turkey's membership into the European Union was accepted at a Summit of European Leaders. In essence Turkey was placed on track for membership by 2014, with significant preconditions. These conditions included Turkey's recognition of Cyprus as a sovereign state, and restrictions on Turkish labor mobility within Europe.

The Turks are fooling themselves.

Turkey has in effect, taken a path away from closer relations with Iran (and its other surrounding nations). This will in the long run have serious economic and political implications for the region. Iranians, as a neighboring nation, should have some cause for concern. But beyond Iranian concerns, I believe the Turks too, should be concerned.

Do they really believe that Europe will embrace them with open arms? Do they really think that they can be full and equal members of the Union? Or will this, as I believe, create a new phase of discrimination and hatred against the Turks (both as immigrants in Europe i.e. the 10 million or so that reside in France, Germany, etc.) for nothing.

Will this in the long run, when Turkey's application is eventually withdrawn, lead to new political divisions -- and meanwhile impede any prospects of much closer ties in Eurasia or Central Asia with Iran for example?

The Turks after all, have much more in common with Iranians, Azerbaijanis, Uzbeks, Turkmens ... than they do with the Bulgarians, or Latvians or the Brits for that matter. Their economic future has already been linked with major oil and gas pipelines streaming out of the Caspian region -- where there is literally trillions of dollars of wealth being tapped for sale via pipelines through Turkey (and Afghanistan).

Linguistically they speak essentially the same or similar language to these countries. Culturally they have substantial linkages with their Asian neighbors... Kebab's and all! Not to mention the thorny issue of the Kurds, which reside within 3 Asian countries including Turkey - and could be more effectively managed within a more unified Central Asian neighborhood.

Isn't it myopic to imagine that a country like Turkey which has 2648 Km of International borders with only 206 Km with Greece and 240 Km with Bulgaria their European neighbors -- can even think of itself geographically as European. And it has the majority of its land mass (over 80%) in Asia anyway.

If it joined the EU, it would be the largest member in land and population (growing from 71 Million to 85 Million by 2020). It still maintains an extremely high illiteracy rate (greater the 22%, higher than any European country). It also has the lowest per capita income of $2530 (lower than any European country including Latvia).

While Europe's elite may bless this 'merger,' because of serious concerns about dwindling national birthrates; and the opportunity to invest in and exploit a growing Turkish market. But, I believe the average European's opinion does matter. I have lived in Europe, and know first hand the extent of racial hatred against the Turks in countries like France and Germany. Let's not forget that "Le Pen" the leader of France's anti-immigrant party won over 10% of France's national vote recently. Islamophobia is running rampant in Europe (and the US by the way) and it will hurt Turkey's membership.

So to reduce any fears -- the EU placed a restriction on Turkish immigration if its application is ever accepted. This restriction flies in the face of everything the EU has established to date. The very notion of the European Union was to create an economic environment for free exchange of capital, goods, ideas and labor. Virtually the whole continent has accepted a common currency, a central bank, and the consolidation of stock markets...

And frankly, it is impossible to imagine that this restriction on immigration will ever be lifted. Turkey has very porous borders, and allowing free mobility of Turks into Europe, is for example tantamount to letting all Iraqi and Iranian Kurds into Europe without visas. Suddenly all Syrians, Iraqis and Iranians will rediscover their Kurdish ancestry. No one really knows which Kurds live where and who exactly qualifies as a Kurd to begin with!

In American terms, it would be tantamount to making Mexico the 52nd state of the United States and let the Mexicans pour in (and by the way add the Guatemalans into the equation because of that porous southern border). And Turkey's borders cannot be sealed within the next 25 years.

And now, Europe, is becoming a political zone too. Europe is establishing a 'Foreign Ministry.' Very soon, it is imagined that member Embassy's might shut down and there will be a common foreign policy and even common foreign representation. Can you imagine a situation where a Turk walks into his or her embassy, or immigration at places like JFK airport (New York, US) and then get asked to please stand in the other line for us to process your passport -- this first line is for REAL Europeans.

No, lets be realistic. Turkey would have much more to gain, by becoming the springboard for investment and penetration into Central Asia. It needs to connect very closely with its neighbors so that every Multinational Company places their operating base for Central Asia in Turkey.

Turkey is extremely well positioned for Central Asian market penetration -- good transportation links, good communication links... With Iran's GDP exceeding $500 billion, and a regional GDP of $1.5 trillion dollars. And the Central Asian region's population now at 350 million - close to Europe's. This is a big market and growing fast. Central Asia has no where to go -- but UP.

There are also major economic growth prospects for oil and gas in Central Asia. Why is Turkey positioning itself to become the poor, disrespected member of Europe, instead of a leading, respected member of a newly establish Central Asian Union? Many of these Central Asian countries are dying for an alternative to Russia - for supplies, for support, for investment... Turkey could provide become their opportunity for true liberation from Russia.

Europe on the other hand, is facing wholesale decline and consolidation. No one admits it, but the awful truth is that while the creation of the European Union has established more competitive European industries against their American or Japanese competitors, it has done so at the expense of substantial closures and consolidation of its industries.

America will not standby and see its markets or influence be diminished by the Europeans... hence the War in Iraq (in effect kicking the French and Russians out of Iraq's oil industry). Europe will not emerge a hands-down economic winner -- especially in this new age of Chinese emergence, Indian emergence and a reformed Russia. Europe after-all has major structural problems -- not the least of which is basic shortages in natural resources, very high labor costs and a heavy burden of social programs. 

For example, in the new Europe without trade barriers, there is only be scope for a few world class auto companies -- there rest will die or have died or will be absorbed into the existing majors. Remember Volvo is now owned by Ford, Saab is owned by GM ... and both Ford and GM are closing factories all over Europe and consolidating production. British Leyland no longer exists. Turkey's lower labor costs would further move production away from France, Germany or other major European nations, and cause even more pain for the Europeans. Turkey's membership battle will be ugly.

I have lived in Turkey, and I am well aware of their snobbery towards Iranians. I have also witnessed the tremendous economic development of Turkey - which has now exceeded Iran's development in every respect -- without any benefit of revenues from oil and gas. The Turks have put Iranians to shame. Turks argue that they can pull ahead faster by rubbing shoulders with more advanced Europeans than by jumping into bed with Central Asians. And frankly with the Mullah's in charge in Iran, and Islamic militancy in Uzbekistan why should Turkey turn towards Central Asia?

Good question.

The point is, there is no one I know that believes the Mullahs will be in charge in Iran by 2014. Islamic militancy will die. Turkey can, by the way, play a great role and be a great role model in helping secularism rise and moderating Islamic militancy. Turkey can actually be part of the solution for the region. Turkey can help Iran turn the corner now ... and reap the rewards later.

The premise of this essay, is basically, if Turkey placed all this energy it is placing for European membership into transforming Iran and the Central Asian region -- in the long-run it would be further ahead than if it becomes Europe's half removed, stepbrother or the European Union's largest member with the smallest voice!

For Turkey to turn its back on its Asian neighbors is shortsighted and ill advised. It also flies in the face of reality.

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