24 May 2016

Turkey could be part of the EU sooner than you think

By Eamonn Butler

There is plenty of Establishment scoffing at Michael Gove’s claim, repeated by defense minister Penny Mordaunt, that Turkey could soon become an EU member, giving 75m Turks the right to live and work in the UK – as a poll suggests that 12m of them would rather like to do. “Absolutely wrong,” says David Cameron, “Britain and every other country in the EU has a veto on another country joining.”

True, but the scoffing is premature. One can easily imagine scenarios in which Turkey, with its 700-mile border abutting a war zone, could become an EU member quicker than folk might imagine.

I campaigned to stay in the EEC in 1975, when Britain was the ‘Sick man of Europe’. We believed we could be cured, like scrofula, merely by touching. But then the political centralism grew, and after Tony Blair signed us up to a vast wodge of employment legislation, the economics turned negative too.

So I am a Leaver on rational grounds. Immigration does not trouble me too much, as it has been economically positive for us. It is governments that cause the problems: causing surges by raising then suddenly dropping barriers, such that our sclerotic government services (health, education and infrastructure) cannot cope. But if anyone is going to control our borders, it should be us and not some horse-trading deal from Brussels.

Not so long ago David Cameron was talking about helping Turkey to join. But back then we knew that since everyone had a veto we could be nice to Turkey because Greece would never let them in. It is easy to see how that could change. After all, the idea of visa-free Schengen travel for Turks looked impossible, but now it is being rushed through.

Greece is teetering on the edge of financial meltdown. One could easily see the other Eurozone countries – who are petrified that the euro project might dissolve in ruins – putting pressure on Greece to let Turkey into more serious membership talks in return for a bailout. Other countries, equally petrified of refugees coming to them through Turkey, would join in the pressure, figuring that if they can keep Turkey talking, the problem might go away.

And letting a country join is not the same as letting them roam. Many countries (though not the UK) restricted migration when the East European countries were first admitted. Many others did the same with the Romanians and Bulgarians. So even if Turkey were admitted, many would think that they could stem the flow. On past experience, that is a forlorn hope.

What about the UK? Surely, with our robust attitude on human rights, and our security concerns we would not allow it. Well again, one could imagine France and Germany being increasingly aggressive to our hugely important financial industry, supported by others who have no skin in the financial game but figure they might extract some other concessions. Again, it seems quite plausible that we might agree to admit Turkey. We would negotiate some provisos, of course, but these would be watered down before long, as they always are.

One can even imagine EU bosses claiming that we cannot have the future of the Union sidetracked by a single country, like Cyprus – and some deal being done to make it a qualified majority voting issue. Remember the Working Time Directive, which the UK vetoed, only to see it return as a Health & Safety measure (and so subject to majority voting).

Sadly, there are no certainties in the EU – which makes remaining in it even more dangerous than leaving.

Dr Eamonn Butler is Director of the Adam Smith Institute