The Saturday Debate: Should Turkey be admitted to the EU?

by Stephen Tall on August 7, 2010

Here’s your starter for ten in our Saturday slot where we throw up an idea or thought for debate:

In all the recent controversy surrounding David Cameron’s recent foreign policy pronouncements some of the substance has perhaps been lost: here was the leader of a major European country unequivocally urging that Turkey be admitted as a member of the European Union.

This has tended to be an uncontroversial view among the British political classes, who regard Turkey as a vital fulcrum in reconciling the West and the Islamic world. It is far less popular among the voters of Europe, as a 2006 EU Barometer survey discovered (see page 224), where there are widespread fears of increased immigration, lack of cultural affinity, that Turkey would be a drain on EU resources, and an unstable influence on European politics.

Most liberals will dismiss these arguments comfortably enough. But there is another concern about Turkey’s EU membership, at least from the perspective of those who still dream of closer European integration. It’s captured well by The Economist’s columnist, Bagehot:

In Brussels, it is common to hear grumbling that British support for Turkish membership is essentially a plot to broaden the EU so much that it can never achieve deeper political and economic union. I think that is unfair, but not wholly. There are certainly British Eurosceptics whose support for Turkey reminds me of the old adage: you can also kill a cat with cream. If some of them could admit China, I suspect they would.

I am sure Mr Cameron is sincere in his support for Turkey. But he also has a vision of the EU as a relatively loose trading alliance of nation states, rather than a deeper economic or political union. That vision is both compatible with Turkish entry and sits at one end of the spectrum of opinion within the EU.

The question is: at what end of the spectrum should British liberals want to sit? In favour of EU membership on principled diplomatic grounds? Or against it on principled integrationist grounds?

Over to you…