Business World

Thursday 12 December 2019

Our EU presidency can make a real impact by helping Turkey to join the union

THE poor Israelis are already getting a little bit bothered that we have assumed the EU presidency this week.

The normally sane 'Jerusalem Post' dismissed Ireland as "perhaps Israel's harshest critic inside the European Union" in an article published yesterday on our presidency.

Unfortunately, the article – like so many other articles on our presidency – is wrong because it vastly over estimates the importance of the Irish presidency.

When the people approved the Nice and Lisbon referendums on the second attempt, they effectively voted to end the whirligig of revolving presidencies forever. The EU's foreign policy boss Cathy Ashton will be setting the agenda for Eamon Gilmore and his counterparts in foreign ministries elsewhere. They cannot really do much more than nudge the policy agenda in any particular direction.

Mr Gilmore still has the chance to do something lasting if he sticks to tasks that might be possible. Rather than worrying about the Middle East, where nobody ever covers themselves in glory, he would be far better off concentrating on Turkey's on-off application to join the EU.

We are so used to the dreary anti-Brussels propaganda from our near neighbour that we often forget that countries from Iceland to Turkey still want to join the greatest experiment in shared sovereignty since the nation state became the norm.

Turkey has little in common with Ireland. We are small. Turkey is the world's 18th biggest economy. We are focussed on North America and western Europe. The Turks look east to the former Soviet Union and beyond.

These differences explain perhaps why Turkey is not high on our agenda but it remains a country whose membership would greatly enhance the European Union and create a real gateway to the East while also acting as a bulwark. Many countries, including Germany and Austria, are deeply ambivalent about Turkey but there is an historic inevitability about membership and it would serve our own interests, and those of Europe, to embrace this fact rather than ignoring it.

We need more big members to weaken the power of Germany and France, especially if Britain does withdraw even further from European affairs.

More than a quarter of a century after Turkey first applied to join, we should help an outsider join Europe just as other countries helped us to join against the wishes of many of the larger states.

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