International Affairs Forum discusses EU issues with Dr. Karen E. Smith, Head of the European Foreign Policy Unit, London School of Economics.
International Affairs Forum: Should Turkey be admitted to the EU even though the majority of EU citizens oppose it?
Dr. Karen Smith: Under EU rules, if Turkey signs an accession treaty, it means that Turkey has met the conditions for admission. That’s what happens when an accession treaty is signed - a negotiation process has been gone through and the candidate country is considered eligible to enter the European Union. That treaty then has to be ratified by the acceding country, all the member states and the European Parliament.
There’s a potential of the treaty being blocked at that stage (not in a European Union-wide referendum). France and Austriawill only ratify the accession treaty after a public referendum is held on the issue and has approved Turkish accession.
You also have to remember that there wasn’t a great deal of enthusiasm in the European Union for the accession of countries from Central and Eastern Europe, Bulgaria and Romania; I don’t think there was a great deal of enthusiasm for the accession of Greece, Spain, and Portugal, particularly among groups who could have suffered economically – olive oil growers for example.
There is a huge danger in taking decisions that are disconnected from public opinion but public opinion also needs to be educated.
And there hasn’t been an honest enough attempt to educate the public about the benefits of enlargement to Turkey and the cost of not enlarging to Turkey.
There were numerous opportunities about a decade ago for the EU to say ‘we’re not going to enlarge to Turkey’. In which case, the EU could have moved to a different kind of arrangement. None of those opportunities were taken. Instead, the EU agreed a position that Turkey is eligible for EU membership – in fact, so eligible that negotiations were opened – and officially committed itself to those negotiations. To turn around and say now, ‘actually, we’re not sure’, would entail an enormous diplomatic cost. To have gone this far, negotiations should be taken to the end, even if it takes a long while for Turkey to meet the conditions. But that’s the whole point of accession negotiations. If the EU now turns around and says ‘we’re not so sure’ then, first of all, there’s a great deal of hypocrisy…there were opportunities to refuse to open negotiations, but they weren’t taken and now the EU is negotiating for accession of Turkey. Secondly, the loss of leverage over Turkey would be tremendous. Why should Turkey negotiate in good faith if it doesn’t think it’s going to accede?
And then there’s the whole Cyprus issue, which has been mishandled quite badly by the EU.
IA-Forum: Do you think that needs to be resolved before accession?
Dr. Smith: It will be. It must put together some kind of package deal, something that’s amenable to all sides. I don’t think Turkey can be admitted without it being resolved. But there has to be good faith on all sides. It was mishandled in 2004, particularly on the EU side. That issue makes the EU-Turkey relationship even more fraught. It would have been fraught anyway because of the extent to which the EU is requiring Turkey to make certain fundamental, deep changes. And when the Cyprus is thrown in, there is the mess that’s there now.
IA-Forum: If Turkey is admitted even with public opinion against it, could it cause further resentment between the citizenship and politicians within the EU?
Dr. Smith: If the EU is serious about letting Turkey in, then they will have to make a case for doing so to the public. If public opinion was still so hostile, there probably would be a block within a particular country. But it’s also important to remember that public opinion may now be against Turkey but in ten years time Turkey could be a very different kind of place.
I do think there are times when there are foreign policies of such importance that public opinion shouldn’t be the deciding factor. Most people don’t pay the much attention to foreign policy and for the most part, they don’t vote on foreign policy. There are occasions when they do such as the Iraq War but this is not on the same level as the war, this is about sharing public goods, about wider security issues, about transforming the EU’s neighbourhood.
I would like to think that the case would be made for letting in Turkey once the conditions are met. . The global implications of not admitting it could be quite damaging.
IA-Forum: The EU recently agreed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least twenty percent from 1990 levels. It has been heralded by Prime Minister Blair and French President Chirac. But some environmental groups have been critical of it as ‘window dressing’. Do you think the plan is implementable?
Dr. Smith: Yes, of course it can be implementable. The EU is setting the agenda right now. They may be doing it in ways that don’t meet all the desires of environmental groups but it does set a path. I think you have to give the EU credit and realize that perhaps its model can help shift the other big players that aren’t shifting – the U.S., China, Australia, Russia. They now have the moral stature to say ‘follow us’. Even if they have problems meeting their goal, as long as they try to meet it, to set leadership in that respect, they will have leverage to set the example to the rest of the world. And that’s extremely important.
IA-Forum: There has been a growing divide between the original fifteen EU members and new members from Eastern Europe regarding energy from Russia…
Dr. Smith: I have been surprised at the extent to which energy has been securitized. It’s suddenly become such an issue that practically everything else has been dropped on behalf on energy.
Central European nations are dependent on Russian energy but then everybody in the EU is somehow tied into Russian energy. However, there are predictions that the Russians won’t even be able to meet their domestic needs in the future. The level of investment is so poor in the Russian energy sector, they could be facing an energy crisis.
It will be interesting to see how long energy will be at the top of the agenda. There are other issues besides energy, and there are other ways of dealing with energy dependence besides worrying about supply (the demand side can also be addressed, for example).
IA-Forum: How much tension is there within the EU on the energy issue?
Dr. Smith: Quite a bit. Several of the new EU countries from Central and Eastern Europe have always been alarmed at the extent to which the big EU countries – UK, Germany, Italy, France - have put a lot of effort in their own bilateral relations with Russia. In fact that has prevented a very strong EU position with Russia.
Several countries have come into the EU wanting to push for a more assertive EU position vis-à-vis Russia. So they do get alarmed over the pipeline to Germany, for example. But they may also find that if they engage in obstructionist, uncooperative behavior to try to harden the EU stance towards Russia, they may not get what they want Much of the way the EU works is through cooperation and consensus. But within the EU there’s always been an unresolved issue of how to deal with Russia. And at the same time Russian foreign policy doesn’t always appear to be constant – so they have not always been exactly a coherent partner for the EU either.
IA-Forum: The United States plans to station a missile defense system in Poland as a deterrent against long-range missile strikes from the Middle East – Iran. This has created friction between Russia and the U.S. It also puts the EU member states in the middle of it. How do you think this will play out?
Dr. Smith: I have a feeling that the U.S. will get its bases no matter what. But I think the issue illustrates the problems between the West and Russia, that this hasn’t been able to be handled in a less confrontational manner. Throughout the Cold War, there was a pretty coherent body of thought in Europe that the way to deal with the Soviet Union was through détente . This position has carried over to today. For example, German foreign policy since the end of the Cold War has been particularly keen to ensure that Russia isn’t marginalized and alienated. It’s a policy to keep Russia at the table and part of the game; that if they want to ensure a secure Europe, that’s how it should be done. They want to avoid an alienatedRussia.
IA-Forum: If it does happen, what effect what do you think it will have on U.S. – EU relations?
Dr. Smith: Of course, if diplomacy works in Iran, the missile defence system supposedly isn’t going to be needed anyway. So we should work on reducing the threat through diplomacy which might be a more fruitful, and cheaper way, of stopping a threat from Iran.
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