BREXIT FROM A TURKISH PERSPECTIVE
Istanbul Bilgi University
Member of TURABDER
The decision of the British people to leave the EU has produced three types of responses in Turkey. To not a negligible group who are busy in making the ends meet, whatever happens in the EU is their business and is, therefore, of littlerelevance to Turkey. To another group, heterogeneous in nature, including both those who are opposed to Turkey’s search of a future in Europe and those who are fed up with the arrogance with which many members and institutions of the EU have approached Turkey, Brexit shows that the EU is also running into trouble and that trouble may even be existential. This, therefore, is a positive development, an indication of where things may go in the future. A third group, on the other hand, is gravely concerned that an arrangement that has brought stability, peace and prosperity to the continent since after the Second World War is under challenge and this is likely to produce negative outcomes for Turkey.
I do belong to this third group that meets Brexit with anxiety for a variety of reasons. First, the EU constituted not only a framework for European cooperation but also for regulated political competition. In this framework, Britain played the role of the balancer reminiscent of its role in the balance of power system that prevailed in Europe during the 19th Century. With Britain out, a France that seems to be declining may find German prevalence difficult to digest, a possibility that will place major stress on the Union. Secondly, the British departure may invite others to advocate a similar undertaking. Whileother departures may seem unlikely at the moment, each referendum is not only likely to paralyze the Union temporarily, but also weaken its determination to become a more coherent and integrated entity. Third, a weakened union would deliver less stability and prosperity than now, augmenting the credibility of the arguments of those that are opposed to either to the existence or of further development of the union. For example, a weaker union would be less likely to conclude a Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership, and it would be less capable developing a security framework for the defense of Europe.
Rather than continue with the difficulties Brexit might pose for Europe, let me turn to how it would affect Turkey and its relations. To begin with, a weakened and less capable Europe is a security concern for Turkey, a country that is located in a troublesome region where European commitment as a security provider is always important. Second, the EU had served as an anchor for Turkey in organizing its own domestic politics along democratic lines while expanding the rule of law and the operation of the market economy. Its weakening is likely to affect negatively the nature of the Turkish political system that is already coming under the challenge of one-man rule. Third, Britain had been a strong supporter of Turkey’s accession to the EU. Britain’s withdrawal from the EU will prove dysfunctional for her pursuit of full membership. In this light, it is hardly surprising that some circles have begun to advocate the termination of Turkey’s membership negotiations with the EU.
What does the future hold? An optimist would say that if the British departure paves the ground for a two speed Europe, it might be easier for Turkey to find a place for her in the second tier. A pessimist would identify Brexit as the beginning of the end. If that happens, both all members of the EU and Turkey would end as losers in all domains from security to economics to democracy. That is on outcome that no one wants.