Well, I don’t know how José Manuel Barroso came across in the broadcast accounts of his address to Chatham House today but in person the man was geniality itself and rather impressive with it. He shares the mildly irritating tendency of EU bigwigs to attribute to the European Union developments that would have happened without it – recalling that within memory, Europe had moved from totalitarian regimes in half of its states to a democratic and peaceful unity. But in general, he gave the impression of trying to be as straight as he could with his answers.
In laying stress on Britain’s freedom to stay outside the eurozone and the Schengen area, he rather skated over the reality that would-be EU entrants don’t have any choice in the matter. That was what stood out from the Scottish referendum debates: that the EU would simply not allow an independent Scotland to share these exemptions.
The address was pretty well as scripted; as ever, it was the question and answer session that elicited interesting comments. Right at the end came a question about Turkey; could it, a lady asked, still be a member of the EU? And here JMB hesitated. ‘I believe the possibility exists’, he said. ‘I cannot tell you when.’
This does not, I think, do justice to the importance of this issue; whether to admit to the EU a country which is barely European (three per cent of its territory is on the European side of the Bosphorus) and which shares a border with, um, Syria. If we are getting our knickers in a twist about freedom of movement of people within the EU, can we just contemplate the possibility of adding up to 70 million to their number? And, as the Spectator’s leader on the subject of Turkey makes clear, the political and religious culture of Turkey is not, to put it mildly, quite the same as ours. For good measure, the International Society for Human Rights has observed that in Turkey, Christians are second class citizens who face ‘serious discrimination’. None of this featured in Mr Barroso’s response.
While David Cameron remains passionately committed to Turkey’s membership of the EU – as he has been since way before curbs on EU migration were envisaged – it’s hard to take his commitment to reducing migration entirely seriously. Mind you, it’s hard to take that commitment seriously in the first place, given that he appears to be focusing obsessively on migration from within the EU. Most immigrants come from outside the EU. And I’d say myself that it’s this influx that matters most to most people.