Monthly Archives: September 2009

Why Europeans Say “No” to Ankara

Many Europeans appear hostile to the accession of Turkey into the European Union. But the question is – why? One of the main reasons is the fear inspired by the echoes of the ancient past.
Take Italy, perhaps the most enthusiastic supporter of Turkey’s EU bid. Italians still use, albeit in a humorous way, an old expression: “Mamma li turchi!” (“My goodness, the Turks are coming!”). This expression originates from Medieval times, when the coast of Italy endured raids from Muslim pirates (at that time, all Muslims were seen, rightly or wrongly, as Turks).
Europeans are well-aware that Vienna was sieged by the Ottomans in 1529 and 1683. However, very few remember that after the First World War, European nations not only carved-up the Ottoman Empire (Iraq to Great Britain, Syria to France, etc.), but also tried to grasp pieces of Turkey itself. Only the determination of men like Kemal Atatürk and Inönü Ismet saved Turkey from Greek, French or Italian colonialism.
A second reason for the opposition to Turkey’s admission into the European Union is wariness. Turks are not Arabs, but despite this, many in the Old Continent still don’t consider them to be “real” Europeans. Even the French president Nicolas Sarkozy stated that Turkey is “not a European country”.
Perhaps wariness is originated by the fact that Turks are, in the main, not Christian but Muslim, and at the present time the European Union is, de facto, a (post) Christian “club”.
In fact, a “spectre” is haunting Europe – the spectre of Islamization. From Spain to Austria, Sweden to France, far-right European politicians are sounding the alarm about the imminent transformation of Europe into a “Muslim continent”, a panic that recalls the “yellow peril” hysteria of their American counterparts in the first half of the twentieth century.
Take, for example, Filip Dewinter, leader of Vlaams Belang, a right-wing party calling for the secession of Flanders from Belgium. He openly stresses the necessity of being “Islamophobic”, and last year warned that “Islamophobia is not merely a phenomena of unparalleled fear, but it is the duty of everyone who wants to safeguard Europe’s future. […] Europe is a continent of castles and cathedrals, not of mosques and minarets”.
Actually, some Europeans don’t support the accession of Turkey into the European Union for reasons other than racism or fear, but rather, because they are aware of current European weaknesses. For if the “no” sounded by a small country like the Republic of Ireland towards the Lisbon Treaty can seriously stall the European integration process, then what kind of delays could Turkey potentially cause? Europeans are aware that Turkey is a proud country, with a strong cultural identity and a great commitment to its national interests. If it was capable of saying “no” to its best friend the USA during the invasion of Iraq, then it is certainly capable of responding in the negative to certain aspects of the EU agenda.
Moreover, at the present time, the Turkish economy doesn’t appear to be in very good shape: this year, its GDP is projected to contract by 5.1% , unemployment is soaring, and several regions are officially considered to be economically deprived. Why should the countries of Eastern Europe (such as Lithuania or Hungary), who have themselves been severely hit by global recession, share European funds with Turkey?
For many Europeans, Turkey’s admission into the EU concerns them not just politically or economically, but also geopolitically. Turkey, with its status as a historical bridge between Europe and the Middle East, shares borders with unstable and authoritarian countries such as Iraq and Syria, to say nothing of Iran. Does the European Union really want to extend its borders to embrace this potentially explosive region of the world? In fact, many EU member states feel that Turkey’s current status is ideal, as due to its location, it serves as a convenient “cordon sanitaire”, a buffer-zone protecting Europe from the security threats of the Middle East.
However, for Turkish citizens, perhaps the question should be – does Turkey really need the European Union? Is the government of this proud state really ready to surrender a significant piece of its sovereignity to Brussels and Strasbourg? A solution to this impasse could be the proposal advanced by the German Chancellor Angela Merkel – a privileged partnership between Turkey and Europe, making Ankara the main ally of the European Union in the Middle East. After all, sometimes a good friendship is better than a bad marriage, and it certainly avoids the potential trauma of divorce.

Ukraine Has A Lot To Learn From Finland

autore: Gabriele

ecco la versione in lingua inglese del post EUROPA SÌ, NATO NO, pubblicata dall’American Institute in Ukraine (AIU) sul suo sito

The facts are frightening. In 2009, Ukraine’s GDP is expected to decline by 8 percent. Iron and aluminium exports, pillars of the national economy, are in free fall, the banking system is on the brink of collapse, and like Iceland and Latvia, the government has already requested help from the International Monetary Fund. In a nutshell, Ukraine is collapsing.

With pretty schadenfreude, former president, Leonid Kuchma, has compared the situation of his unlucky country to the tragic scenario of 1941, when the Nazis occupied Kiev (according to legend, the city brings its occupiers bad luck, prompting superstitious Polish Marshall Jozef Piłsudski to steer well clear of it).

The tremendous global recession seems to have inflicted a fatal blown on both NATO and the European Union’s hopes for Ukraine, a country in the Russian orbit. However, it would be a great defeat for the European Union to lose the former Soviet country, because if it’s true that Kiev desperately needs Brussels, then it’s also true that Brussels needs Kiev.

Why? Simply put, Ukraine, with its 47 million inhabitants (projected to rise to 54 million in 2025), its agricultural and mineral wealth, and its geographically strategic position, could be very useful to the European economy, which is afflicted by an ageing working force and is lacking in abundant natural resources. Therefore, the European Union could well suffer from the loss of potentially the richest country in the the whole of Eastern Europe.

Historically, Ukraine has often been a tempting presence for European powers: everybody – from the Austrians to the Russians, the Germans to the Poles – has tried to gain control of the region, because whoever controls the vast Ukrainian plains controls the gates of Eurasia. The Hun hoardes and the Mongol armies who terrorized Europe in the Middle Ages knew this, as did the Nazis when they invaded the Soviet Union.

Of course, Europe can’t ignore Russia’s interest in Ukraine. If the Soviet Union had won the Cold War, and if Texas had become an independent state and adhered to the Warsaw Pact, what would have been the reaction of U.S. government? After all, we must remember that after the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the Americans promised the Russians that NATO would not expand.

Even Jack F. Matlock, U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union between 1987 and 1991, stated that Gorbachev was given a “clear commitment that if Germany united, and stayed in NATO, the borders of NATO would not move eastward”.

Additionally, in April 2008, Vladimir Putin openly stated that “Ukraine is not even a state! What is Ukraine? Part of its territory is in Eastern Europe. On the other hand, we gave them the most important part of their country”. In other words, Europeans, Ukrainians and Russians must reach a compromise that is respectful of the will of the Ukrainian people, the worries of Russia and the needs of Europe.

It must be noted that most Ukrainians want their country to become a member of the European Union, like their neighbours Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Romania. Indeed, it seems that European aspirations unite Ukrainians of the Western regions and Russophones of the Eastern ones.

Through European funds, Kiev could modernize crumbling infrastructures and boost an economy that can’t depend solely on its iron, steel industries and chemical industries. Likewise, European institutions could strengthen the young democracy, thus stabilizing the whole country.

Regarding Ukraine’s NATO adhesion, the French, Germans and Italians are very cautious. After all, is it really necessary that Ukraine, a self-declared neutral country since 1990, should become a member of an alliance openly founded to “keep the Russians out, the Americans in, and the Germans down”? If, during the short war between Georgia and Russia, the latter didn’t send its tanks to Tblisi, capital of a fragile country with just 4.6 million inhabitants, is it really feasible that there could be a Russian invasion of Ukraine, a country far bigger and stronger than Georgia?

Ukraine’s NATO adhesion would divide not only the Ukrainian people (deeply undermining local and regional stability), but also the Europeans, and would cause a serious strain in the relationship with Moscow, the main energy supplier of the Old Continent (and the biggest trade partner of Ukraine).

What is needed is a decent compromise, a “grand bargain” in the best European diplomatic tradition. Ukraine deserves the chance to enter the European Union, thus joining the world’s most successful community of prosperous and democratic counties. But, in order to respect Russian security and its own sovereignity, it should not join NATO.

Ukraine should learn from Finland, a rich, neutral democracy that has very good relations with its neighbour Russia. Because, as said by Ukrainian farmers, “if you chase two hares at the same time, you will catch neither of them”.