Saturday, July 28, 2007

CRIKEY: Talking Turkey, democracy and EU membership

Turks have just elected an Islamist government. But we aren't talking about HAMAS here. Turkey’s Islamists combine free market economics, recognition of Israel, pro-Western foreign policy and more zeal to join the EU than any of its more allegedly secular predecessors.

Still, many conservatives (both social and economic) oppose Turkey’s entry into the EU. I saw this in action back in October 2005 at the launch of the Australian edition of In Defence of Global Capital published by the CIS.

The author is an ex-greenie ex-socialist Swede, Johan Norberg, who converted to capitalism after researching ways to fight global poverty. He now believes globalised capitalism, removing trade barriers and liberalising international labour markets is essential to solving intractable economic, social, environmental and security problems.

Paul Kelly from The Oz and James Morrow (whose Investigate magazine’s Australian edition seems to have gone underground, if not under) introduced Norberg with all smiles and praise. One even praised him for his good looks!

Norberg lapped it up before telling us to open our borders to new goods, services, people and money. He attacked the EU’s rhetoric on globalisation and its hypocrisy in placing high tariff walls to stop imports from the third world.

I noticed a slight change in tone from Kelly, Morrow and the audience when Norberg said the West should liberalise their immigration policies and acknowledge that the greatest achievements and contributions in culture, business and politics often come from migrants and refugees.

I couldn’t help myself. In question time, I asked whether Norberg supported EU membership for Turkey. To the chagrin of his conservative Sydney audience, Norberg went on to explain why arguments EU conservatives use to oppose Turkey’s entry are in fact excellent reasons to support it:

1. Turkey is too big and will make up 15% of the EU’s population. True, but size represents opportunities, especially given Turkey’s growing economy.

2. Turkey is too poor. True, but many recent entrants are poorer and will prove a greater drain. Plus poor Europeans often do the jobs that rich Europeans refuse to do.

3. Turkey is too Muslim. Norberg said that not all Muslims are the same. Some of Europe’s more troublesome Muslim migrants are victims of overly generous welfare policies and inflexible and overly regulated labour markets. A fresh injection of Westernised Turkish Muslims will help the process of economic and social integration for (often less integrated) South Asian and North African ethnic Muslim groups.

Further, if the EU strings Turkey along with all these promises of membership if Turkey reforms its economy and polity, then dumps Turkey just for some historical and religious prejudice, it will damage the EU more than Turkey.

Norberg wasn’t exactly the most popular person in the room after all that. My notes show Paddy McGuinness almost choking on his wine, then arguing profusely about the hordes of German and French Muslims rioting, and Norberg responding by saying it was more complex than just culture and sect.

It seemed my Turkey-EU question let the kebab out of the bag. It was hilarious to see this allegedly conservative crowd push their free market economics out the window to make way for their pet sectarian prejudices.

First published in the Crikey daily alert on 25 July 2007.

Words © 2007 Irfan Yusuf

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Mark Richardson said...

Irfan, the West is not just an economy. For some of us, it is a source of identity, culture and tradition. The question of admitting Turkey to the EU therefore represents a serious issue.

Anonymous said...

Pity you didn't take more detailed notes rather than mislead readers. I was there. Yes McGuinness talked about 'muzzlims' and one or two others may have questioned Norberg about Turkey and Europe, but more out of interest and for information. Let's see, that makes about 5% of those who were there. Most there were enthusiastic supporters of the Norberg line, though Norberg himself has said that the existence of the welfare state makes open immigration a trickier proposition. Hardly a conservative crowd. Don't try and create a misleading story out of nothing to suit your own prejudices, but that seems to be your modus operandi.

MS said...

Anon @ 603, I was there too. Irfan was sitting on a stool at the other end of the room. I was close to the entrace of the room. I could see lots of people in the audience looking really disturbed at Norberg's Turkey line. Paddy was the loudest of all. Lots of people supported him by saying "yeah, that's right". Morrow looked like his head was going to explode.

The prejudice was evident in the audience. That's not the fault of the organisers or Norberg.

Irfan Yusuf said...

Mark, in what sense if Turkey not a Western country?

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