Friday, 7 August 2009

Letter opposing Turkish EU membership sent to MEPs

This is the text of a letter I recently sent to all the Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) in my voting region. I intend to document their responses here when I receive them. I feel that only this kind of grassroots democratic pressure has any chance of stopping Turkey's EU membership drive. Everyone needs to send such letters to their representatives. Feel free to copy mine word-for-word or use it as a template if you plan to the same.

I write to express my grave concern about the prospect of Turkey acceding to the European Union. In my view this would be a disastrous step which may well ultimately destroy the European Union. This is something I would deeply regret as, although deeply flawed in its current incarnation, with far too little direct democratic input, I feel that the European Union has enormous and unique potential to bring about positive change in the world.

By accepting Turkey as a member, the borders of the EU would be vastly extended. We would then face the reality of having borders in the conflict-scarred zones of the Middle East, with Iraq, Syria, Armenia and Iran as neighbours. This would create grave problems with regard to illegal immigration. At the moment, Europe’s borders within the undeveloped world are primarily sea borders. This still creates huge problems. For example, Greece, a country of 11 million people, is currently struggling to accommodate a vast tide of illegal immigrants and asylum seekers which, by some estimates, amounts to 2 million people. This is almost one fifth of the country’s own population! And these are immigrants who, in the main, have had to make the difficult journey across the sea to get to Europe. Think how much more greatly this problem is going to be magnified when they simply have to stroll across Turkey’s vast and porous borders. And, of course, the overwhelming majority of these immigrants do not intend to remain in Greece. For many, the goal is to come to Britain. So, ultimately, it is we who will have to deal with them.

Europe’s population is declining, while Turkey’s is growing fast. With a population which currently stands at around 72 million, Turkey might well already be the European Union’s largest member at its projected accession date of 2014. By 2050, Turkey’s population is projected to reach 100 million, while the EU’s is expected to have shrunk. Turkey might then constitute almost one quarter of the EU’s population as a whole. Since the European Union is nominally democratic - and we have to hope that the structures of the European Union will become less bureaucratic and more democratic in future, possibly with an EU president being directly elected by the people – this would give Turkey, whose culture is essentially alien, a vast and potentially sinister influence over a whole range of important issues. It would be a retrograde force, counteracting the tolerant values that have come to characterise modern Europe.

On any number of issues, for example with regard to respect for gay rights, free speech, women’s rights or the rights of ethnic and linguistic minorities, Turkey has shown itself to be far less enlightened than one would expect of a modern civilised nation, in Europe or anywhere else. To take only one example, the Turkish government bans access to YouTube in case Turkish citizens come across videos that criticise the revered dictator Ataturk. Criticism of Ataturk is illegal in Turkey.

Turkey is not a stable democracy. Its military regularly interferes in politics or threatens to do so. There is constant talk of a military coup if its elected governments diverge too greatly from the path laid down by Ataturk. Indeed, this appears to be the only way which secularism can be maintained in Turkey. The natural instincts of the ordinary people are to favour Islamist political positions.

Turkey is not a European country. Only a tiny sliver of territory, amounting to approximately 3% of the whole, lies on the west side of the Bosphorus, the traditionally accepted definition of Europe. The European Union cannot expand indefinitely. A reasonable limit has to be set somewhere. And borders of Europe are surely the appropriate place. Were this core principle to be discarded, the European Union would then face the prospect of having to fend off membership applications from as far afield as Central Asia, the Middle East and Africa.

Nor is Turkey a European country culturally. Its history and traditions are different. Even modern European atheists recognise that Christianity has shaped European culture. Today, although religious practice has largely been abandoned in Europe, the imprint of Christian tradition remains in the moral character and cultural outlook of the people. That heritage has created a commonality of thought and feeling in Europe which Turkey simply does not share.

Not having been subject to the same shaping influence, Turkish people see the world in a very different way. The French foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, who had previously been a supporter of Turkish accession, said that he was shocked by Turkey’s conduct at the NATO meeting in April 2009. All NATO members, except Turkey, were unanimous in their choice of former Danish Prime Minister, Anders Rasmussen, for the post of NATO Secretary-General. Only Turkey opposed it. The Turks objected to Anders Rasmussen because he had spoken up in favour of liberty of expression during the Danish cartoon controversy in 2005. That alone was enough to earn him a Turkish veto years later. Of course, after much behind-the-scenes bargaining, the Turks were persuaded to change their minds. But the episode is a dramatic illustration of the threat that Turkey poses to modern Europe’s progressive, liberal values. The experience of having participated in this meeting later caused Bernard Kouchner to change his mind on the question of Turkish accession.

Britain and the other countries of the European Union receive thousands of applications from Turkish asylum seekers each year. Is it not incredible that we are actually thinking about welcoming into the European Union a country whose government is so repressive that thousands of its citizens are forced to seek asylum abroad? Imagine if thousands of Swedes or Belgians were applying for asylum in Britain each year. The idea is, of course, absurd, and the idea of Turkey becoming a member of the European Union ought, consequently, to be no less absurd.

Turkey has still not come to terms with its own history. During the First World War, the Turks committed an outrageous genocide against the people of Armenia. This served as the template for Hitler’s later persecution of the Jews. “Who today remembers the Armenians?” Hitler is said to have asked before embarking on the Holocaust. But while modern Germany has fully and candidly acknowledged the crimes of the Nazi era, modern Turkey continues to deny the most elementary facts relating to the Armenian genocide – facts that are accepted by all objective historians. Indeed, Turkey refuses even to use the term genocide in connection with those events. Bizarrely, the Turkish government goes so far as to threaten diplomatic consequences whenever official personages or institutions in other countries call the Armenian genocide by its name. This shows that Turkey has a long road to travel on the way to political maturity and is utterly unfit to be a member of the European Union.

In addition, in its relations with the European Union, Turkey often seems to act more like an adversary than a potential partner. Turkish military aircraft routinely violate EU airspace. On average this occurs 1,500 times per year, making for approximately 5 airspace violations times per day. How can we seriously be considering extending membership to a country which makes these threatening gestures towards us?

Perhaps most importantly, the European people simply do not want Turkey to become a member of the European Union. Opinion poll after opinion poll has shown that the idea of Turkish membership of the European Union is one that is overwhelmingly rejected by the citizens of the European Union. The countries of the EU are democracies. The European Union itself is supposed to function in a democratic manner, although experience shows that it unfortunately often does not. You as an elected politician are supposed to represent the wishes of your people. It is not morally acceptable that popular feeling in democratic countries should be so contemptuously swept aside. In the long run, the disregard for democracy evident in so many actions at the highest level of the European Union is unsustainable. It is fuelling popular discontent, which manifests itself in the “No” votes in referendums almost every time the population of any country is asked to give its consent. If democratic principles continue to be disregarded in this way, I believe that in the long run the very existence of the European Union will be threatened. People feel strongly about the Turkey issue, and they will feel even more strongly when the 100 million Turks begin to have their inevitable democratic influence on issues that affect their lives. Riding roughshod over popular opinion on the question of Turkish membership may well come to be seen in historical retrospect as the EU’s “Stalingrad.”

The only serious argument advanced in favour of Turkish membership is that it will benefit Turkey. Of course it will benefit Turkey. Almost any country in the world would benefit from European Union membership, with access to the world’s largest market for goods and services and the range of social support mechanisms that the European Union offers. But the EU is not a charity. It simply cannot proceed on the basis of whether another country’s membership of the EU will benefit the other country. The relevant question is whether it will benefit the EU. In this letter, I hope I have demonstrated quite clearly that it would not.

Let me add that, as a European taxpayer, I deeply resent the fact that Turkey now receives literally hundreds of millions of Euros each year from the coffers of the European Union (almost €600 million in this year alone, and projected to increase further next year) even though it is not a member of the European Union and may never become one.

I would like to know your views on Turkish membership of the EU. Do you agree that it is potentially damaging to the EU? Have you spoken out or will you speak out on this issue? If you favour Turkish membership, I would like to know your reasons for doing so. And even if you do favour it, you will surely agree that the issue should be decided democratically? Will you agree to join in calls for the question of Turkish membership to be decided ultimately by referendum if it is ever provisionally approved by the governments of the member states?

1 comment:

  1. Good luck with your campaign, it is well worth it.