Turkey: Why the EU is negotiating with Turkey

Imperialism and illusions related to European Union membership

A yes to EU membership negotiations with Turkey. That was, as expected, the outcome of the European Union Summit of 17 December. Why does the EU want Turkey to become a member? Why did some of the EU rulers hesitate? What kind of membership is on offer for Turkey?

Geo-political factors were finally decisive

The increasingly open imperialism of the EU needs the accession of Turkey in order to expand its military and geo-political reach. The French president Jacques Chirac made this very clear when, after some hesitation, he declared himself in favour of negotiations. "It is in the interest of France and the EU… Not least referring to the fact that the EU, which is too light-weight compared to powers like the US and China, ’would carry more weight in the future through the presence of Turkey’" (Swedish daily, Dagens Nyheter, 18 December).

Turkey has NATO’s second biggest army and has been a reliable allied of US imperialism for more than 50 years. The attempt of the EU to achieve a closer relationship with Turkey has made several influential US commentators, among them neo-conservatives, change position on the EU. Only a year ago, the leading neo-conservative, Deputy Defence Secretary, Paul Wolfowitz, was advocating Turkish EU membership when he visited Ankara. Today, these advisers are warning that the US might lose its special relationship with Turkey. The occupation of Iraq has already created big tensions, not least since Turkey refused US troops transit across the country to launch a northern front into Iraq.

The EU tops are balancing between cooperation with the US and their own strategic ambitions. The decision to lift the arms embargo against China, agreed at the same EU summit, is a further step to strengthen the global interests of European big business, partly at the expense of their US rivals. The negotiations with Turkey, which will start in October 2005, will for several years be a source of imperialist tensions across the Atlantic.

The "soft Islamists" in the Turkish government have no alternative to capitalist globalisation.

Prime minister Recep Tayip Erdogan has made maximum use of his background to push through a neo-liberal policy that "normal" right wing politicians would never have achieved. (As late as in 1999, Erdogan was in prison for one month for "anti-secularism", after quoting a poem saying, "Minarets are our bayonets… Believers are our soldiers").

Erdogan’s party won an earthquake victory in the elections. But instead of the new course hoped for by poor voters he followed the line from the World Bank, the IMF and the EU. The austerity measures following the economic collapse in February 2001, when GDP fell 9.5 per cent in 2001, was one of the worst in any country. Unemployment and poverty exploded to new levels. The public sector debt is very high.

No economic boom is in store for the Turkish and Kurdish masses

The negotiations will lead to Turkish membership at the earliest in 2014. Meanwhile, workers and the poor in Turkey will be told that sacrifices and worsened conditions are necessary in order to reach the "EU dream". In the ten states that joined the EU in 2004, poverty increased during the negotiating process. Transnational EU companies opened new factories, but as the recent debate in Sweden has shown, workers lose out. This was shown by the example of the Baltic workers having no trade union rights in Swedish-owned companies.

Alongside the geopolitical reasons, big business’ hopes of increased exploitation is a driving force behind the EU negotiations with Turkey. It is already clear that exceptions would be the rule if Turkey joined the EU. Turkey will never receive even the limited agricultural and regional aid now given to Poland and other new EU states. Privatisation and lower pensions will be among the targets being discussed with Turkey.

Illusions about the EU are particularly high among the Kurdish masses, which hope for an end to national and cultural repression. However, two reasons lie behind the fact that the EU tops have even raised the issue of democratic rights. First, it is to ensure "freedom" and a legal framework for private companies and their profits. Secondly, talk of human rights can win some support in the domestic debates in the EU states. Moral high-ground words do not cost money. But the Kurds have nothing to hope for from the EU in a period when the treatment of minorities is worsening in EU countries themselves, not least for Muslims. The allies of the Kurds are instead to be found among European workers struggling against the neo-liberalism of the EU.

EU leaders carry the responsibility for racism and suspicion against Turkey

In its editorial on Turkey (18 Dec), Dagens Nyheter talks about "growing anti-Turkish opinions". Over recent weeks leading EU politicians – for example, German Christian Democrats, Dutch politicians and former French president, Valery Giscard d’Estaing – have sharply attacked the possibility of Turkish EU membership. Are they in fact only reflecting a growing xenophobia in the EU countries? The editorial answers indirectly, by referring to "a flood of distrust against aliens and rulers" and the fact that many EU countries in 2005 will have referendums about the draft EU constitution. This, it says, "Makes EU leaders more careful and they are tempted to go along in a way which risks first putting the brakes on and later bursting the European community."

The use of xenophobia by the EU leaders will both legitimise and heavily reinforce it. The attempt of the established parties to gain support from the least conscious layers in society and to divert attention from the massive attacks on welfare and workers’ rights are carrying reactionary currents to the surface, which has been clearly shown in the Netherlands this Autumn. The continuously worsening treatment of refugees in the EU countries is playing the same role. Referendums on Turkish EU membership due to be held in France and Austria is stepping up this process. The nationalism of the bourgeoisie in the EU countries is what provokes the editorial above to mention, for the first time, the possibility of the EU "bursting".

The working class needs an independent, socialist alternative

The working class in Turkey has a strong tradition of mass struggle with revolutionary features. The imperialist western powers have given unconditional support to brutal military coups – the last one in 1980. Capitalism, with or without the EU, has nothing to offer the workers and poor of Turkey. In the present EU countries at present, particularly in Germany, the class struggle is sharpening. The working class needs its own political alternative, a fighting workers’ party with a clear socialist programme. Only in this way can militarism and capitalism be challenged, both in Turkey and in the EU countries.

From this week’s Offensiv, the weekly paper of Rättvisepartiet Socialisterna (cwi Sweden)

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December 2004