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2004-09-10

Austrian commissioner opposes Turkish EU-membership 

EU-commissioner Franz Fischler has cautioned the European Commission over possible membership negotiations with Turkey, the FT reports. See also discussion and comments at the Fistful of Euros group blog. Fischler talks about a "plan B" based on the danger of a resurgence of religious fundamentalism and anti-democratic tendencies in Turkey. These are of course phenomena that would not occur between now and December, when the decision to start membership negotiations is expected, so effectively Fischler's remarks represent a statement against opening membership negotiations, full-stop.

Fischler also said, according to Die Presse [DE], that public opinion could not be ignored any longer.

The third argument advanced by Fischler, according to the FT:
In his letter, he estimates that according to current rules, Turkey would receive about €11.3bn ($13.2bn) in agricultural subsidies every year. "The annual cost to the EU budget of such an accession in the agricultural sector alone would therefore be larger than for all the [10] new member states" that joined this year.

Other officials argue such statistics are meaningless, because the EU will have a new budget by the time Turkey joins.

Supporters of Turkish membership say that it would send a clear message to the Islamic world, strengthen the EU's defence capacity and improve security of energy supply.
While I accept that there is a legitimate political opposition to Turkish EU-membership, although I do not subscribe to it, the quote above is another example of the annoyingly low quality of arguments used by both its opponents and supporters. Of course Fischler knows that Turkish entry can only take place after suitable new budget rules have been drafted, so that his estimates are indeed vacuous as an argument. On the other hand, the FT's portrayal of the pro-membership case is also weak - such grandiose geopolitical talk is absurdly detached from well-understood democratic policy making.

Turkish EU-membership, while difficult to establish, will contribute to the export of peace, prosperity, and improved human rights to a region that has traditionally been at the European periphery. This will benefit the prospects for peace and prosperity of the existing members. Synchronised with enlargement in the Balkans, it is a project that the European leaders should approach with constructive optimism. Pro-active preemption of possible populist criticism is not what I expect of an EU-commissioner such as Mr Fischler.


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