Common values are the very foundation of the European Union.
They play a decisive role for the inner cohesion and solidarity among the citizens of the Union. They unite them. That’s why they are laid down right at the beginning of the Treaty in Article 2. They include respect for human dignity, freedom, tolerance, democracy, the rule of law, pluralism, justice, solidarity, equality, the protection of minorities and non-discrimination. The Charta of Fundamental Rights describes these values in more detail and phrases them in a manner that turns them into fundamental rights enforceable by law for each and every citizen.
These values and fundamental rights are not arbitrary. They have resulted from centuries of European history. Many of them had to be fought for in bloody conflicts. Not one of them may be taken for granted. They are precious. That is why the values of the European Union have to be so firmly protected and defended today.
What does that mean in specific terms?
Specifically, it means that Turkey should no longer be a candidate for accession to the European Union. A state which, ten years after accession negotiations officially started, handles freedom of speech and freedom of the press as Turkey currently does, a state which obstructs peaceful public demonstrations and strips its members of parliament of their immunity does not respect the values of the European Union. To say it more clearly: It does not want to respect them!
The path Turkey has taken in the last years not only shows a lack of respect for the European Union and its values, it is diametrically opposed to these values.
This disqualifies Turkey from being considered an official candidate for acceding to the European Union.
Turkey is currently heading right towards an autocracy. This is incompatible with the basic principles of the European Union. And those who still advocate Turkey’s accession advocate a European external border with countries such as Syria, Iraq and Iran. It is absurd to believe that this is the wish of the majority of the citizens of the European Union.
In the context of the Syrian refugee crisis Turkey’s actions have been somewhat dubious. Turkey has, without doubt, shouldered a huge share of the burden caused by the Syrian civil war. For that, it deserves recognition and gratefulness from the international community, including the European Union. At the same time, however, one might wonder why billions of euros from the European Union and the prospect of the visa requirement being lifted were necessary for Turkey to effectively control its beaches on the Aegean Sea. Only afterwards Turkey seemed to have really engaged in stopping human trafficking and preventing refugees from crossing over to Greece at the risk of drowning.
The example of Ukraine should have taught the European Union a lesson not to raise its expectations too high.
The truth may be bitter but the excessive expectations of the Ukraine rapprochement have in fact contributed to its inner destabilisation, no matter how much one may condemn Russian aggression. But in the case of Turkey’s accession, it is not primarily Turkey’s stability which is at stake, it is the inner peace and cohesion within the European Union. Even if the referendum in Britain on 23 June is won, a large part of the British people will still oppose an excessive geographic enlargement of the European Union to the East and Southeast. And they are not the only ones in Europe by far.
Turkey is not a definite part of Europe.
It is much more accurate to say it bridges Europe and Asia. Not only geographically, but also in religious, political and cultural terms.
Nevertheless, the European Union and Turkey share a number of common interests. Security policy and economic cooperation are examples. Obviously another, current one, is the cooperation in order to master the Syrian refugee crisis. Furthermore, there are millions of people of Turkish origin who already live in the European Union, in particular in Germany.
On balance, it is overdue to turn Turkey’s status of an accession candidate into a strategic partnership between the European Union and Turkey.
This would be best for both parties and the mutual friendship of their people. It would protect both camps from taking on too much. And it would be an extremely important signal sent by the Union to its own citizens these days.
Why it is desirable that Britain remains a member of the European Union
The exact opposite is true when it comes to Britain remaining a member of the European Union. The British have significantly contributed to the European values that are rooted in law today. Just consider the Magna Charta, parliamentarianism, the Habeas Corpus Act and the Bill of Rights. Just consider John Locke’s Letter Concerning Toleration and his Treatises of Government and John Stuart Mill’s work On Liberty. Just consider how the British opposed and sacrificed lives to fight the Nazis, consider their immunity to the large ideologies of the 20th century – fascism and communism. Or consider the great traditions of the universities of Oxford and Cambridge, the fundamental contributions to science and humanities and outstanding innovations.
It is sad that currently so many Brits have difficulties to identify with the goals and purpose of the European Union. A powerful voice of freedom, pluralism and the rule of law, a voice that is passionate about innovation and entrepreneurship is highly important in today’s European Union. It is needed – for example to remind the Polish or Hungarian government of basic values or to encourage Greeks to speed up with reform and innovation.
Without doubt, it is desirable for all citizens of the European Union that the majority of the British will vote in favour of staying a member of the European Union on 23 June. The strategic and economic reasons are paramount, both for the British themselves and for all other citizens of the European Union.
In terms of politics, history, religion and culture, European nations have much more in common with the British than with the Turks. Inner cohesion and solidarity, inner peace and reform in the European Union have to be of absolute priority. An excessive geographic and cultural enlargement of the European Union is a clear and major risk for its internal stability.
The goal must be the best possible – not the largest possible European Union!
A state like Turkey, which, after ten years of the official start of accession negotiations, moves towards a direction opposite to the fundamental values of the European Union forfeits its right to be referred to as an accession candidate country. It is high time for the European Union to draw the conclusions from these developments and to turn Turkey’s status of an accession candidate into a status of strategic partnership.Oliver H. Schmidt