Blog: Dave LeggettTurkey and EU

Dave Leggett | 6 October 2004

There's a gathering debate in Europe about the wisdom - or not - of allowing Turkey to negotiate membership and, ultimately, join the EU. From a trading point of view the country is effectively already in as exports from Turkey are not subject to the EU's Common External Tariff. And the auto industry has been keen to take advantage of that, along with Turkey's much lower production costs, of course. But what about letting Turkey in as a member and giving the Turks a chance to receive other benefits (it's a relatively poor country, so could be expected to be a large net drain on EU finances) and have a say in the policies of the EU (with a population of 70 million plus, it would immediately be a weighty power)? Well, that's where the problems in swallowing the pill of Turkish membership begin.

But with the rapid ageing of the population in western Europe, Turkey may have an ace up its sleeve. Not only is the country populous, but it is very young. As the economies of western Europe start to groan under the weight of all the crumblies in the coming decades, Turkey could actually help to provide some of the missing workers. And its low level of economic development suggests that there is plenty of economic growth potential too. Europe's little China? Maybe.

But it's interesting to note that among the people of Turkey, rather than its government, the idea of EU membership isn't all that popular. And the EU isn't tremendously popular amongst the populations of existing member states either. And that's a big challenge ahead for the institution of the EU: get a better image and democratic accountability. And another challenge is the old one of depth or breadth? Now that the club is being extended into eastern Europe, breadth seems to be the way it is going with the old Franco-German axis that was always at the heart of EU policy in real trouble. That will cause long-term tensions I think, between integrationists (an elite group of richer countries) and newer members and/or those wanting a looser association.

But what will the EU look like in twenty years time, I wonder? My guess is two-speed, with a group of rich countries - led by France and Germany - becoming very integrated along the lines of the classic federalist vision and effectively forming a single country, but coexisting with a bigger group that have a much looser association based mainly on free trade. Britain and Turkey could well be the leaders of that group.


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