I wrote this to a student who was responding to an article in The Spectator that I had sent him.
I keep fearing for Turkey, especially for the disappointment that I believe may ensue as the accession process moves forward. I fear Turks might find that the EU that they will end up joining isn't the EU they wanted to join. I happen to agree with the author of the article that the tendency of the Turkish elite to treat the EU as a medicine they have to take to get back into health (or into the club of 'civilized nations') is sapping its self-confidence. The fact is that, as the history of the last century and this one has demonstrated, Turkey doesn't need lessons in civilization from the west . There ARE things that Turkey needs to change, but that's something the Turks will need to figure out themselves.
Now you might object and say: so what are you complaining about? Turks HAVE decided how they want to change, and that is by joining the civilized countries club of the EU! But has there really been an informed public debate between different opinions and perspectives on this in Turkey? Most Turks seem oblivious of the fact that (a) historically biased perceptions in Europe about Turkey may be about as difficult to change as the historically biased perceptions that Turks have about Arabs. Add to that the fact that (b) the EU is a group of democracies agreeing to be governed by an unaccountable and secretive bunch of people known as the EU Commissioners; the EU parliament has practically no powers. And (c) the EU is in the process of abandoning its own social charter to monetarist and free market ideological tendencies. What do you think the so-called flexibility of the labour market is all about but the right for employers to return to the kind of Dickensian capitalism that you see in the US now?
The problem here seems to be that the LIBERAL (as opposed to the nationalist or Islamist) right in Turkey sees the EU as representing an opportunity for more foreign investment and an even more aggressive adherence to free market ideology, and a greater respect for secular and "democratic" values (unburdened by any REAL Accountability, Responsiveness to public opinion or Transparency - the A R T of Democracy, get it?!;-)); whereas the left (to the extent that one exists) seems to be anxious to avoid the possibility of a right-wing nationalist or Islamist state, and therefore finds itself agreeing with the liberal right with whom they share their love of secularism and "democracy". So the EU seems such an attractive alternative to a nationalist or Islamist fascism, that no one has bothered to actually ask the really tough questions about the prospects of democracy and economic governance AFTER Turkey joins the EU. On that, the media and the public seem to be willing to leave it to the experts - central bankers and economists within the dominant (Washington) consensus. This is very dangerous for ordinary Turks, in my view. But then, I don't want to seem the arrogant foreigner who knows more about what's good for Turks than the Turks themselves. But I do think an open well informed public debate is always a good thing, whether for Turks or for anyone else. The reason why it doesn't happen as often as it should is because too many powerful people either seem uninterested in any debate that is likely to curtail their exercise of unaccountable power, or - more deceptively - interested in being in control of setting the terms and agenda of the debate. That is a dominant characteristic of almost every single "democracy" in the world, if you notice carefully.
Despite my reservations about the EU, I still think that on the whole, it would probably be a good thing if Turkey joins the EU, but ONLY after a thorough examination of and public debate on all the issues, and only after all the people have had a chance to assess the likely impact on their lives. For instance, to what extent is the EU a project driven by the interests of corporations rather than by those of ordinary people? What sort of protections will be available against abuses of human rights, including abuses by corporations of their workers? How accountable will the EU superstate be to ordinary people?
As I said, the good things expected to come from the EU should be adopted anyway, whether the EU accepts Turkey or not. Why should better compliance with human rights standards and better environmental regulation and better corporate governance and banking supervision be conditional upon adoption by the EU? Aren't these things good in themselves? The answer is probably: Yes, they are, but in the current conditions in Turkey, joining the EU is the only way the divisions among the different political interests in this country can be resolved. But this answer assumes that politics in both Turkey and in the EU will remain static for 10 years, or however long it takes for the EU to admit Turkey.
Another thing that most people fail to recognize is that in the dominant neoliberal form of capitalism, there IS a contradiction between democracy and human rights on the one hand and economic "reform" on the other. Just ask the Bolivians and Brazilians and the Argentinians, and practically any country where the World Bank have had a hand in "reforming" their economies. Any good that comes from better human rights (e.g., stronger unions, better working conditions for workers, better provision of health and education)or environmental regulation becomes a cost of business, and therefore is resisted by businesses, and therefore by governments keen to encourage foreign investment. The only place where this doesn't happen is in the Nordic countries, and more broadly in many European countries. But even in Europe, there is always a tension between the social charter and the interests of business, with the pro-business lobby dominating the central banks and finance ministries. That's why you should pay attention to these calls for reform: ask yourself "Reform for whom?" and who is calling for them? Well, usually, the reform is for the corporations, not for workers, or those on unemployment benefits, or at the lower end of the income scale. This is clearly evident from discussions about flexible labor markets. Notice also how capital mobility is always regarded as a good thing, but mobility of people is always resisted for cultural reasons. But even those who are pro-immigration are not those who want welfare benefits to extend to immigrant workers, because that will drive up the costs for businesses. The net result, if my fears come true, is that the EU will increasingly resemble the US, where social conditions have been receding for the last two decades to an earlier stage of capitalism. Believe me, you don't want to join that kind of Europe!
Ultimately, what kind of model of capitalism will Turkey adopt? The Nordic model or the Anglo-American/neoliberal one? Or can it evolve its own? Turkey has a young population, vibrant and dynamic industrial and service sectors. With the right mix of public education and health policies Turkey can, within a few decades, become a formidable economic power, primarily because the economically productive population of present-day Europe would have shrunk to unsustainable levels. But whatever it does, no capitalism can sustain itself politically for long by marginalizing the working class, but by giving it a stake in the system. This Europe has managed to do, but is now under pressure from its monetarist/supply side/neoliberal central bankers and chambers of commerce to break with the welfarist model that it developed after WW2.