It has been widely reported that Turkey is frustrated by the slow progress of it's application to join the EU. Nonsense. Most of the people I talk to in Turkey think they are better off out of it. They laugh at Greece, no love lost there obviously, but you can understand their attitude. Many Turks view their neighbours as lazy and I suspect that overall there is actually a stronger work ethic in Turkey.
EU membership carries obligations as well as benefits. An architect friend of mine, some years ago oversaw a major renovation of an historic quarter in Istanbul. It was paid for, he told me, with EU money. If you're already getting the benefits, without the obligations, then why would you join?
These are tough times for nations and individuals alike – we all know that. The question is what are we going to do about it. One thing the EU has been doing is negotiating comprehensive free trade agreements, or FTAs, with non member countries around the world, opening up the exchange of goods and services in a bid to boost economic growth and create jobs. So far so good.
However, Turkey has a customs union agreement with the EU and the problem Turkey now faces, is that under the terms this 1995 agreement, a country which concludes a trade pact with Brussels automatically gains access to Turkish markets, while Turkey cannot utilise the same advantages the EU has secured for its exports. This is clearly unfair.
Economy Minister Zafer Caglayan readily admits the nearly two-decade old customs union has helped the country's economy grow, but fears the new free trade deals will be a burden, he's damn right. Some may say it's pay back time, Turkey has had many advantages from its one sided relationship with Europe, but that's not the route to economic growth and harmony. Europe has to decide where it stands on Turkey and it has to do it now.
A lot is at stake for Ankara as trade with the 27-member EU absorbed nearly 40 percent of Turkey's $152.5 billion in exports last year, according to national statistics. And a lot is at stake for the EU and Britain too. 40 percent of British exports go to the EU in a neat symmetry and the EU is in difficulty to say the least. Greece is a burden and other economies threaten to become so. France is again in recession and Germany is oppressed by the Greek bailout. The EU took on countries like Bulgaria and Romania to help them grow, but they're still far poorer than the European average and are struggling to grow, whilst older members like Italy and Spain are suffering too, look at Spanish unemployment.
Turkish frustration is driven by the sharp slow down in their economy, which grew by 2.2 percent in 2012, from over 8 percent the two previous years. Read that again slowly and consider just how delighted George Osborne would be with 2.2% GROWTH. While the Turks are frustrated because they were achieving 8%!
The EU has been a major contributing factor to European peace since World War Two and I think it was a large part of Ted Heath's motivation when he led us to join. We want a peaceful world and we worry, with some cause, about Islamic extremism. Turkey is the boundary between Europe and the Middle East, she's a full member of NATO and thanks to the wisdom of her founder Kemal Ataturk, one of the greatest me, of the 20th Century in my view, state and religion are separated, unlike in Iran for example.
Wars are also fought when people go hungry or run short of water, maybe this is a greater long term worry even than religious bigotry. So here are my reasons for wanting to welcome Turkey wholeheartedly as brothers.
Economically Turkey is a strong, vibrant and growing economy, she will be an instant economic asset, and a tonic to the EU, she brings with her trade, growth and economic strength. As a NATO ally we need to bind her closer, not push her away. Why has progress been so slow? One reason is Greece and the Cyprus situation. If we can resolve that terrible dispute then it's another huge advantage. Greece is in a weak position today and is I strongly suspect the more inflexible of the two. If the EU is to support Greece it should get more than street protests in return. It's time for a resolution, time for Greece to make concessions. Personally, having been to the Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus I'm convinced that the distinctive Turkish community was oppressed before the war that divided the island, it's high time to create a fairer situation for all. The EU welcomes Turkish Cypriots as EU citizens but doesn't recognise the Turkish Republic Of Northern Cyprus, even the customs regulations for visitors are a mess. The EU must put its house in order and welcoming Turkey into the fold could be the catalyst.
Some existing EU member states fear having a Muslim country as a member. At the moment Turkey is a good friend, let that friendship wither and die and we increase the chances that extremists will take over. Ataturk's teachings are much revered in Turkey, but he is no longer there to lead, the memories of his leadership his ways of doing things will fade, with succeeding generations, it was ever thus. If Turkey becomes an EU member we will have the opportunity to influence, push her away and others will become more influential. In the longer term it should be remembered that Turkey can supply all her own food and water requirements without the need to import, with further development she could export more of those increasingly critical commodities too.
For the sake of our economy and hers, for the sake of world peace, it's time to cement our friendship with Turkey. I hope we haven't left it too late.