The odd thing about Europe is that it doesn’t really exist. Look on a map and there’s no obvious geographical feature that neatly delineates Europe from Asia. Over the years, an arbitrary dividing line has emerged, but it doesn’t make a huge amount of sense. For instance, there’s no good reason why most of Turkey should be on the Asian side when all of Azerbaijan (a Turkic nation to the east of Turkey) is on the European side.
Whatever the geographers might say, Europe has no clear borders. Rather, it fades out into a vast Eurasian grey area – which, as we’re now seeing in Ukraine, is fertile ground for conflict and confusion.
Another significant, if less urgent, example is Turkey’s would-be membership of the European Union – a long-running farce, whose latest developments are analysed by Alev Scott in a fascinating report for Standpoint:
“In January, the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Erdogan arrived to great fanfare in Brussels to promote Turkey’s EU accession bid. After a five-year hiatus, he was there to assure the EU of Turkey’s commitment to democratic principles, such as the rule of law, independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers.”
Erdogan’s hosts politely made no direct mention of what Scott calls “Turkey’s rapid spiral into unashamed tinpot dictatorship”:
“On the same day, 96 Turkish judges and prosecutors were quietly ‘reassigned’ from key positions, joining the thousands of police chiefs removed after the recent investigation into high-level corruption in Erdogan’s closest circles. Two weeks later, the Turkish parliament passed a bill dramatically restricting internet freedom and privacy, despite widespread street protests and international condemnation.”
Turkey is also currently top of the global league for the number of journalists currently in prison.
However, even if the country had an exemplary human rights record, one suspects that its membership would still be stuck on permanent hold. There are those who fear that Europe’s cold shoulder is a mistake of historic proportions – with Turkey becoming permanently alienated from the West. Erdogan hasn’t exactly gone out his way to allay such fears:
“In November 2013, at a public meeting with President Putin in St Petersburg, he declared that if Turkey were allowed full membership of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (an alliance involving China, Russia and Central Asian states), he would be ‘saved the trouble’ of continuing EU accession talks. On the opening day of the Sochi Winter Olympics, Putin pronounced Turkey ‘Russia’s primary partner’, strengthening the impression of a power couple enjoying a heady romance.”
With Turkey and Russia backing opposite sides in Syria’s bloody civil war one has to doubt the sincerity of this special relationship – nevertheless the loss of an ally of Turkey’s strategic and economic significance would represent yet another severe blow to Western foreign policy.
A big part of the problem is that for those countries located on the fuzzy borders of Europe, there is currently no third way between membership of the European Union and the anti-Western tug of Russia and/or the Middle East. What is needed is a non-military association of free nations that is clearly Western and democratic in outlook, but which does not seek to dilute the sovereignty of its members. Respect for fundamental human rights should be a condition of membership, but without the judicial activism that is more concerned with imposing a leftwing political agenda than protecting genuine freedom of conscience. Member nations would join together to promote free and fair trade, but would reject the folly of fiscal and monetary union.
Back in the days of the Cold War, the slogan of the Socialist Workers Party was “neither Washington nor Moscow, but International Socialism.” With a couple of amendments, we should make it the slogan of a new Conservative foreign policy: “neither Brussels nor Moscow, but international cooperation.”