Monday, March 14, 2016

Calm down and face facts: Turkey is not joining the EU anytime soon.

Turkey's mercurial president has played a blinder in his recent negotiations with Angela Merkel, which has set half the British press into panic mode with suggestions that Turkey's membership of the EU might be fast tracked. One paper yesterday had a headline suggesting that if Turkey was in, Britain would be out.

Let's just calm down and face facts here.

A fast track entry into the EU for Turkey while the country is run by President Erdogan or anyone remotely like him is, listen carefully,


Point 1:  all EU members have a veto over the accession of any country.

Point 2:  that includes Greece

Point 3: it also includes Bulgaria, Croatia, Romania, and Cyprus, which was invaded by Turkey within my lifetime.

Point 4:  while we remain members of the EU, it also includes Britain.

Point 5: The Merkel deal promises a start of negotiations. It does not promise a fast track.

Point 6: As  "The Economist" pointed out this week, "Not even Turkey's closest friends would claim that it meets the democratic standards" required for membership.

You can bet your life that the details of any application for membership by Turkey for membership of the EU, and the state of democracy in that country, will be scrutinised very carefully indeed by all the countries I have named above, and probably the other 22 as well!

It only takes one country to be unhappy, and the application will be vetoed. France held up British accession for a decade after we decided we wanted in, and the history between Turkey and the other Balkan countries makes that between Britain and France look friendly.

Until democracy and the rule of law in Turkey become far better established than they are today, there will always be at least one of the EU member states which will veto Turkish membership. And they will be right to do so.

Of course, Turkey does need to take steps against a real terrorist threat.

Even had there not been a ghastly terrorist atrocity in Ankara yesterday, I would have good personal reasons to know the terrorist threat which Turkey often claims to be facing is real and not a figment of their imagination.

In November 1993 I was having a discussion with a BT colleague on the 9th floor of  a major BT building when we had to evacuate because three Kurdish terrorists had thrown a Molotov Cocktail through a window of the building, apparently targeted because part of it was leased to a Turkish Bank.

Nobody was killed but a BT employee who was unlucky enough to be hit by the incendiary device was severely burned: she and four other colleagues with less serious injuries had to be taken to hospital. About a thousand people were in the building when we had to evacuate, and the attack was part of a co-ordinated series of Kurdish terrorist attacks.

Many BT properties need to store flammable materials, such as the fuel for standby power generators used to keep the UK telephone network up if the national grid goes down. If the petrol bomb had landed on something which caused a fire to spread rapidly, I and hundreds of other people might have met a very nasty death.

The people who took part in that attack belonged behind bars - after due legal process of course - as does whoever was responsible for yesterday's atrocity in Ankara and those other opponents of the Turkish government who have resorted to violence, with the same proviso. But cracking down on every Kurdish critic of the government, critical journalists, and opposition figures - and at times Turkey has done a lot worse than just arrest people - is as unjust and counterproductive as arresting every Irish person in the vicinity would have been when the IRA bombed the British mainland.

I am definitely not a fan of the Leveson proposals, but the way the present Turkish government treats the press makes the Leveson regime look like it was designed by Liberty.

The aim of the current proposed agreement between the EU and Turkey is to wreck the economic model of the people-smugglers, and action to do that has been overdue for a long time. But there is absolutely no way that Turkey could, should, or will get fast track EU membership while the country is run on anything like the present basis.

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