Rather to my embarrassment, I find that I missed last night’s episode of the BBC2 three-part series on The Ottomans, Europe’s Muslim Conquerors, in which I briefly featured. So Heaven knows what I actually said in it; it’s been a while since filming. But I’m rather hoping that the point I wanted to get across did, viz, that it’s nuts, barking mad, insane, away with the fairies, for Britain to be agitating for Turkey to be part of the EU. On David Cameron’s last visit to Turkey in 2010, he expressed anger at the delay in Turkey’s admission to the Union and blamed opponents for playing on fears of Islam in order to advance their case. Which more or less mirrors the rhetoric from Labour on the same subject. Turkey=moderate Islam in the Foreign Office view of things, so embracing Turkey is a means of promoting the kind of Islam we like rather than the sort we don’t, with happy consequences at home. They think.
Actually, I take issue even with that assumption that Turkey’s contemporary form of Islam is invariably tolerant, moderate, inclusive and generally consistent with our own prejudices; it doesn’t quite square with a close examination of the rhetoric and practice of Prime Minister Erdogan, especially in the wake of his own Istanbul Spring earlier this year, to which he gave rather short shrift.
The very basic point I was trying to make, though, was that EU membership brings with it the right to live and work anywhere within the Union. So in theory, upwards of 75 million people would have the right to settle anywhere they like in the EU; it’s a reasonable assumption, given the size of the Turkish community in Britain, that quite a few would want to settle here, though less than the number that would gravitate to Germany.
According to last week’s figures, some 600,000 people from within the EU are living off benefits in Britain at present; as a sort of grown up parlour game, what would be your guess of how much the figure might increase if Turkey were to join the EU, with bonus points for the likely figure if its economy were to decline and give a spur to further emigration? Or, more to the point, how many would emigrate here to work, thereby increasing pressure on homes and services? In fairness to the Turks, I should point out that quite a significant body of opinion there is against EU membership anyway and in the wake of the Eurozone debacle one can’t really blame them.
Then there’s the delicate issue of just how European Turkey is. According to the brute yardstick of geography, about three per cent of the country is on the European side of the Bosphorus. Which means, does it not, that 97 per cent is on the Asian side. Are we really that keen on having a semi-permeable EU land border with Iraq and Syria. Really? Truly? It goes without saying that its size and position are precisely what make Turkey a crucial regional power and why the US is so very keen on Turkey joining the EU (Condoleezza Rice was especially emphatic about it) but this, I feel, is one on which Britain’s very special friend should be told where to get off.
Of course now, whenever I raise the subject with people from government, I get told, sotto voce, that ‘it’s not going to happen’. Which makes you wonder about the coherence of a foreign policy where the stated and actual aims of government are so very much at odds. The trouble about Britain being so publicly and passionately in favour of Turkey in the EU is that eventually it may get what it wished for. The consequences for immigration, for social cohesiveness, for community relations, here and still more in Germany, really don’t bear thinking about.