Talking Turkey

President Klaus of the Czech Republic has just signed the Treaty of Lisbon, the last of the EU’s twenty-seven heads of state to do so. Actually, what struck me about that news is that twenty-seven is a lot. Could you name all the members of the EU? I couldn’t. Easier to remember which countries aren’t members. Iceland, Norway and Switzerland are the only gaps in the map of Western Europe. I don’t know, maybe it’s something about snow. Or mountains.

Iceland applied to join the EU this year, but it seems certain now that number 28 will be Croatia, some time in about the next year, and then Iceland and the rest of the Balkans will gradually follow. These are all relatively uncontroversial, provided they can modernise their political and economic systems to match the rest of the EU. No-one seems particularly alarmed at the prospect of even Muslim-majority states like Albania and Bosnia becoming part of the communnity.

That’s not the case with Turkey. They applied for membership in 1987, but it took until 1999 to get an answer. It was in the affirmative though: Turkey is now an official candidate for accession to the EU. I’m broadly in favour, provided that genuine convergence of laws and rights can be obtained. For example, the infamous Article 301 of the penal code makes it a crime to “insult the Turkish nation”. That’s not just a violation of human rights. It’s a stupid and pointless law for any democracy.

But in many respects, Turkey is as democratic and progressive a state as those of Western Europe, with an explicitly secular constitution, more so than the UK, for example. It will just take a little time. If they do join the EU, Turkey will instantly become one of the largest and richest members, which will be interesting. I like interesting.

And after that? Arguably, Ukraine and Armenia are “European” countries, but where do you stop? Belarus? Russia? Kazakhstan? Some Israeli politicians have expressed a desire to join the EU. Israel may be pretty definintively outside Europe (Morocco was turned down for that reason), but a current member state, Cyprus, is only a hundred kilometres off the coast of Israel and Lebanon (and further East than most of Turkey). Actually, Lebanon was always historically the most European part of the Middle East. I’d let them in.

 

Member states Candidates in negotiations Application submitted SAA States (Potential candidates)

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