“Turkey, bogeyman or savior”
Nearly at the same time we received the article of Mr Sinan Ulgen we came across an essay by Mr Guven Sak who addresses the economic and social benefits both for Europe and for Turkey which he would expect from Turkey’s accession to the European Union. The title “Turkey bogeyman or savior” leaves us perplex and seems to leave us little choice. Turkey is neither the one or the other. We shall again in the interest of saving time for readers, deal with this article by giving our comments directly next to the main text, namely in an indented passage
“Turkey, bogeyman or savior” by Mr Guven Sak
(“Europe’s World” march 2009)
Mr Güven Sak is executive director Economic Policy Research Institute in Ankara.
In this article he says: Statesmen think about the next generation, according to popular wisdom, while politicians only think about the next election. If so, then current Turkey-EU relations are being shaped by the narrow calculations of EU politicians rather than the intelligence of statesmen.
The majority of Turks feel that EU leaders are trying to turn Turkey into a bogeyman, somehow to blame for the pain which Europe is feeling during its transformation into a more competitive global economic actor. Turks increasingly consider they are neither welcome nor wanted in the EU, hence the collapse in popular support for Turkey’s EU application from 70% in October 2005 to 40% in November 2006.
“Voices of Europe” comment : With such statistics would it not be better to stop the unhappy and prolonged insistence on accession? We could then concentrate on something better: alliance and friendship.
Prof Guven Sak continues: Turkey is undergoing an historic transformation. In the last four years, its economic performance has mirrored the success of China, with growth above 7% for fifteen consecutive quarters. Since 2002, the cumulative rise in Gross Domestic Product has been a record 25%. If this Asian-style growth continues for another fifteen years, income per head will reach half of the EU-25 average – the level at which other EU candidates were allowed to join.
“Voices-of-Europe” comment : Professor Guven Sak gives us here a very sobering appraisal. Fifteen more years strong expansion needed to reach only at 50% of a (by then increased?) European average ? A level at which other EU candidates were admitted ? But such calculations were not controlling when we admitted other EU candidates. At that time there were – as there are now- quite other reasons at play, reason of practicality and of identity.. So far so good.Gucen Sak further:
Guven Sak further: But can Turkey sustain such growth?
Well, potentially yes. With Turkey still an “emerging economy”, there remain many new areas for investment. The private sector is driving expansion more than ever before, much more so than in other new EU members. However, there are serious obstacles ahead. These include rising trade imbalances and unemployment in sectors such as agriculture and textiles which are lagging the rest of the economy. Turkey so far lacks an adequate risk-management strategy to deal with these looming problems.
Furthermore, Turkey must undertake fresh reforms to unlock its future growth potential, both to equip the labour force with new skills and to level the financial playing field for domestic and foreign investors.
Whether Turkey’s economic agenda for 2007 will include such reforms remains to be seen. However, it seems unlikely. Political and public attention is more likely to be distracted by presidential and parliamentary elections which are being held this year. Amid the tension of election campaigns, it will be tough for any government to maintain fiscal discipline, an essential condition for stability in Turkey’s vulnerable economy.
“Voices-of-Europe” Comment: we value the honest appraisals and questions We shall not try to answer them. They do not really address control the main accession issues. At any rate, even if Turkey would meet with difficulties the EU shall stand besides Turkey and help overcoming them.
At the moment, therefore, Turkey would particularly benefit from having a strong outside authority to help the government keep economic reforms on track. Up until now, the IMF provided an anchor for our macro-economic programmes. Many Turks now believe that the EU accession process would be the logical source of stability for deeper structural and micro-level economic reforms in 2007 and beyond.
“Voices-of-Eurtope” comment : Here we meet again the “anchor” argument which is so often used with regard to Turkey. As if the country were a rudderless ship which is in danger of being lost. We have a higher opinion of Turkey’s state and its future.
The author however should not look only at what might or might not be good for Turkey. We in Europe however have to make our own evaluation and planning for our future institutional set-up.
Guven Sak : Sadly, few European politicians seem to agree. Instead, they are making negotiations with Turkey open-ended, with no guarantee of full EU membership as a result. This makes the whole process vulnerable to political blockages from inside the Union. With EU institutional reforms currently stalled, EU decision-makers seem willing to interpret public reluctance to accept further internal changes as hostility to external change as well, particularly Turkish membership.
Our comment : Sad for the author perhaps. We in Europe are happy with our choice though we find also the “open-endedness” not entirely frank and honest as we would have liked to see in past decades. Blame our European past political leaders for that weakness. What the author calls “political blockages” may be valid democratic expressions. Perhaps the author is not entirely accustomed to those.
Guven Sak : This hostile attitude toward Turkey today risks dealing the EU a potentially fatal blow in the future.
Our comment : Why speak of hostility ? The question is a sober and simple one : What is best for both our regions ? We certainly have no hostility and love Turkey as a good neighbour.
Guven Sak : Since Turkey has the youngest population in Europe, and the people of “old” Europe are quite literally getting older, Turkey offers Europe a demographic “window of opportunity” to maintain economic growth for decades to come.
“Voices-of-Europe” comment : The demographic argument can be left to our European people. Europe’s secular and spiritual leaders and our families are getting aware of the situation. Families like to have more children and demand better family support policies.
Prof Guven Sak : Education reform in Turkey now will provide skilled workers tomorrow. Just imagine the boost to EU competitiveness if all those young Turks entered the EU workforce already fully equipped with cutting-edge skills and knowledge. Of all the countries in Europe, reform in Turkey can yield the highest economic returns. We have in Europe first to use the skill our East European EU members.
Our comment : We recognize the excellent skills found in Turkey. Let that skill be used in their own home country, or in Europe but under appropriate (“circulatory”) migration plans.
Guven Sak : EU leaders also need to recognise that Turkey’s transformation affects her regional neighbours too. Turkey is the largest exporting nation within the Balkan region and accounts for 65% of the total volume of industrial exports from the Middle East and North Africa.
Our comment : We are very happy to see and recognize that regional influence and we said so in our comments to Mr Sinan Ulgen’s article.
Guven Sak : Turkey has the strongest private sector between Italy and China and, with 60% of Turkish exports going to EU markets, is already well integrated into western European economies. Turkish companies have already begun to help neighbouring countries to make the painful transition into open and competitive market-driven economies.
Our comment: If Turkey is already so well integrated into western European economies what are the remaining complaints about ? On Turkey’s help to neighboring countries see our comments to the article of Sinan Ulgen. All of these trends show that a “win-win” situation is possible for the EU and Turkey together.
If the EU block Turkey’s membership, then both sides are likely to lose. But if Turkey can manage to sustain the reform process and economic growth without help from the EU, then the biggest loser would be the Union itself.
“Voices-of-Europe” comment : In conclusion: for us Turkey is neither Europe’s “bogeyman” nor its “savior”. We can do a “win-win” in other ways than accession as full member to the EU.
“Voices-of-Europe” does not wish forgetting to compliment “Europe’s World” for this new series of articles on Turkey’s quest for an optimal relationship with the European Union. The articles of both Guven Sak and Sinan Ulgen are written with honesty and we try by the format of a table to respond as closely and directly as possible. We hope to continue relating to what “Europe’s World” and what others have to say on the topic.
ANTON SMITSENDONK Paris-Beijing 18 march 2009