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What the Turkish President and a French Minister told me encourages posting some ideas I had discussed with friends. I describe briefly the context, some practical steps, a daring vision, and next steps.

Last week, I spoke at a major French Turkish conference in Istanbul, summmarised in this article: “Turkey, France test the water before Sarkozy visit”. Behind efforts of rapprochement between both countries, and concerns about Turkey’s drifting toward the East, there is the broader issue of the continent’s future architecture. I am not talking here only of enlargement: we need to think beyond the ‘cut & paste’ approach to European integration, bringing down the ‘new Berlin wall’ between enlargement and neighbourhood.

My interview with President Gül was short but revealing. He made a good speech at a dinner event but would of course not speak freely in an interview, just at the time the country foreign policy is in the limelight. Probably like strongman Erdogan, Gül is bullish about Turkey’s attractiveness and not disclosing interest in interim half measures, for fear of renouncing full enlargement. If his likely November visit to Ankara as G-20 Chairman is to be successful, Sarkozy must offer some humility and a few great ideas.

My interview of Pierre Lellouche, and his prior speech went beyond his pro / anti enlargement dilemma and some defensiveness. Like his boss Kouchner, the French Secretary of State for European affairs is interested in geopolitics, not just in the EU mechanics. Unlike others, he does think ahead of changes in Ukraine and Russia, instead of just following the short term public opinions of France and Turkey.

I am probably more committed to enlargement than most Paris politicians or observers, based on living in EU circles since 1987, working in Russia 15 years ago, and experiencing Central Europe’s media landscape for 10 years. But I believe some people are right to debate the enlargement ‘pensée unique’. Although they could do it in a more constructive way, like the Germans. My own intervention – far from a keynote speech – was made of two points: short term practical measures, and visioning for this Century, beyond Turkey.

First, we need to build trust between Turkey and Europe via practical measures (a bit like the Schuman / Monet method, said a later speaker). Building on the existing Customs Union, we need to a) get rid of the humiliating and inefficient visas for Turkish visitors b) boost the Erasmus student exchanges to and from the country c) prepare the minds for the next stage: working permits for Turks, firstly graduates d) greatly increase communication among civil society and business circles, beyond the Institut du Bosphore and the Turkey Season in France. All these are necessary steps, not costing much money or controversy.

Secondly, one should think long term, not just replicating models of the past, but ‘inventing our futures together’ as Kemal Dervis put it at that conference. In my view, the challenges that will force change are notably: soft but influential global governance, EU enlargement & institutional fatigue (possibly after the Western Balkans), Europe 2020 failing but recovered stability, declining but European Russia, growing and assertive Turkey, reforming but torn Ukraine.

So, how could ‘Europe-beyond-EU’ look like in 10 to 20 years? My tentative concept is neither terribly original, nor controversy-free, not detailled (the Schuman declaration was shorter than this post ! :-) ). Here is a short vision:
– a pan-European space with all usual freedoms, including labour movement (in stages): call it ‘the new EEC’
– acquis communautaire either mandated or voluntarily adapted by Eastern countries: to gain stability and foreign investments
– few ‘hard’ institutional developments in the medium term, but ‘Europe 10’ soft governance:
. including EU’s ‘big 6’, plus Turkey, Ukraine and probably Russia (10th slot is for the EU itself: Commission or EU President, also standing for smaller countries)
. E-10 Summits before G-20 Summits and before EU Summits
. once a year,
if the Mediterranean space finally takes off, E-10 could be enlarged to key countries there?
– the question of EU enlargement remains open:
. Ukraine and Turkey may eventually join for good, if the ‘missing bits’ outweigh at that time the cost of full compliance, including sovereignty limitations
. Integrating and negotiating EU legislation chapters does make sense anyway, and should not block progress in parallel.

Could the EU make this happen, without smaller Member States trying to block, in alliance with the Commission and Parliament ? No, the pan-European renewal dynamic must be initiated by a few country leaders. In a fait accompli without any treaty backing, like the start of EU Summits and G-7 in the seventies, and G-20 recently. Once the momentum exists, then one can talk about the Commission being the natural secretariat, and the Parliament debating with Eastern parliamentarians, or even integrating them as observers.

After this glimpse of visioning, now I land back in Istanbul: how does this all fit with Turkey’s expectations? I believe the country needs four things, that can be delivered faster than enlargement: be recognized as the regional power it was, fulfilling the EEC promise made in 1963, delivering benefits for its people, and keeping the eventual enlargement question open.

Now, are there next steps after this mere blog post? Clearly, the ‘big politics’ ball is in the camp of French and German governments, but they won’t be the most credible in Turkey’s eyes. It is Europe as whole that needs to think hard about its future. In an innovative way that the consensus-driven Gonzales group did not achieve. And I’m saying Europe, not just the EU, but also Turkey, Ukraine… and – let’s leave old fears aside – Russia also.

Let’s think pan-Europe together!

Christophe Leclercq

In practice, at my modest level: like several others, I have more ideas – and questions – on these topics. Fiction or real policies, the future will tell. And first of all some informal reality checks: I may trigger a ‘stakeholder workshop’ with other people who think beyond their country expertise and day job. Readers who are interested – you already read that far! – may react below publicly, and/ or contact me personally:
my email is at the bottom of my profile here.

I also take an interest in Ukraine and interviewed a few politicians from both the previous and current government, see:
Context of interviewing (previous) Deputy Prime Minister Nemirya
Interview with (current) Deputy Foreign Minsiter Yelisieiev

Notes from a Krynica Forum panel on Ukraine at which I spoke, with former PM Miller and Ukrainian politicians

Author :
EurActiv Network