Tag Archives: European Union
Back in 2007, our Creative Director & CSO Asad Yawar foresaw the rise of Turkey – something not even on the global international relations agenda at the peak of the Euro-American credit bubble – as having ‘far-reaching implications…for Europe, Central Asia and the Middle East’.
Since that time, Turkey has been the only major European economy aside from Germany and oil-rich Russia to come close to transcending the global economic crisis. But its longstanding trajectory of joining the European Union – a goal which was confirmed with Turkey’s official bid to join the European Economic Community almost exactly twenty-six years ago – does not look nearly as attractive as it might have done even five years ago. A condition of Turkey’s EU accession is the eventual replacement of the Turkish lira with the much-maligned euro; given the experiences of present eurozone periphery countries, where even sacrosanct pillars of private property such as bank deposits and gold have become collateral damage in a financial armageddon, it is doubtful whether a country which could in theory gain many of the benefits of European Union membership without actually joining would choose to take the obvious risk constituted by signing up to the EU.
With an ever-growing international reach – Turkey’s foreign aid budget nearly doubled from 2011 (US$1.3bn) to 2012 (US$2.5bn) – the state that contains the former imperial capital of the Ottoman Empire clearly has options regarding its future alliances. But what, if any are the alternatives to the EU? After some contemplation, we at Mediolana came up with the following:
1. Shanghai Cooperation Organisation. This international bloc – ironically headquartered in Beijing – is fundamentally a Eurasian security alliance. While the current Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has openly stated his keenness on joining the SCO, these sentiments do not appear to be shared even by other senior figures in his own AK Party, and it is easy to see why. Totally dominated by Russia and China and offering little in terms of environmental or human rights standards, Turkey would have little leverage within this grouping and would have no additional incentives at all to improve two of its (presently) weaker areas.
2. Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. Historically one of the great sleeping giants of international relations, the OIC should in theory be an arena where Turkey, which is already a member state, can further its goals. And from 2005 to date, a period when Professor Ekmeleddin İhsanoğlu has been Secretary-General of the OIC, Turkish influence within the organisation has been palpable. However, Turkey has not traditionally enjoyed a prominent position within a largely ineffectual organisation that has been characterised by the power struggle between Saudi Arabia and Iran. The forthcoming supplanting of the present Secretary-General by Saudi former journalist Iyad bin Amin Madani means that the OIC is unlikely to adopt a Turkish agenda in the medium term.
3. Turkish-Islamic Union. This is an international bloc which presently does not formally exist but which is being heavily promoted on A9, a Turkish television station established in 2011. This fact alone would not normally qualify it for serious consideration, but judging from the calibre of people from the worlds of academia, journalism, business and politics that have already been interviewed by this channel and who have expressed a desire to see Turkey take on this type of leadership role within the Islamic world, A9 seems to have an influence disproportionately large compared to its modest audience share. The main advantage of this grouping for Turkey is that it would get to design the institutional architecture from the TIU’s inception, which in theory could make it much more functional than, say, the OIC or EU; while the provisional name of the organisation is unlikely to inspire Arabs or Persians, the essential concept deserves consideration.
Since the 1990s, there has been a notable increase in the popular stigmatisation of immigrants to the United Kingdom, with substantial sections of the mass media turning terms such as ‘asylum seeker’ – the usage of which was previously the prerogative of the courts or human rights NGOs – into insults to be hurled across a playground. However, perhaps the acme of this trend was not reached until very recently, when the UK government – which seemingly overnight became aware once again of its obligations under the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (‘TEFU’) – seriously considered launching an advertising campaign in the EU’s two newest (2007) members, Bulgaria and Romania, attempting to dissuade prospective (and, from no later than 1st January 2014, entirely legal) economic migrants from attempting to seek their fortunes on this shores.
The presumptions behind this line of thinking appeared to be numerous, but two in particular stood out: ‘lazy’ immigrants are a drain on the United Kingdom’s benefits system; and they will ‘flood’ into the country (immigrants never settle somewhere – they always flood it). However, unlike the policy wonks who clearly never meet an immigrant knowingly, we at Mediolana had another – and dare we say, more empirically-sound – perspective:
1. Adding Up. The Financial Times recently reproduced official government statistics showing that a mere 7% of foreign nationals resident in the United Kingdom claim working-age benefits – as opposed to 17% of British nationals. The idea that immigrants as a group move to the UK for the purposes of exploiting an ever-more parsimonious system of state aid (financial institutions excluded, natch) is simply untenable.
2. Entrepreneurial Zeal. The above-mentioned figures do not encapsulate the tiny percentage of immigrants who fill (often, though certainly not always) unproductive positions in the state bureaucracy – jobs coveted for, amongst other things, their short hours and minimal risk. Conversely, one cannot walk down a high street in reasonably-sized British town without coming across an entrepreneur – whether it be a restauranteur, shopkeeper or pizza delivery person – willing to work insane hours just to make something more of their lives.
3. Geography Lesson. Are people more likely to move to countries with which they have strong linguistic and cultural links, and where there are already substantial communities of compatriots present? Will people move to the other side of the continent to find work when they have a booming megalopolis next door?
Unlike the Mediolana CSO Asad Yawar, most commentators – economic or otherwise – did not see the ongoing global financial crisis coming, and are as surprised as anyone to see affluent European countries such as Spain slide into what we have termed (and will soon flesh out in more detail) as a New Second World. But Mediolana’s CSO has long seen ominous signs in the Spanish economy since his first visit to the country in 2002.
Travelling to the Andalusian tourist triangle (Sevilla-Granada-Córdoba) during a blistering summer, our CSO noticed one or two things aside from the remarkably long queues at the entrance to the Alhambra Palace:
1. 1492-1992. Andalusia – one of the most dynamic places in the world during the Middle Ages – is a fixture towards the foot of modern Spain’s economic league table. Still, Yawar did not expect to find cities where between the expulsion of the Moors and the commencement of serious EU sweeteners, nothing much of note seemed to have happened. Particularly striking were the bus stations, ramshackle products of the pre-EU second and third quarters of the twentieth century which reminded our CSO of nothing so much as why Yugoslavs traditionally regarded their economy as superior.
2. Deep Structures. 2002 was a time when any half-sentient Briton could walk into a bank, lie about their income and have half a million pounds deposited in their account faster than the responsible teller could say ‘commission’. Rules about this sort of thing were tighter in Spain, but still: the good times rolled. Income was disposable and cash was flashed, yet a few enquiries in and around Granada revealed a real unemployment rate of around 40% in Andalusia – similar, ironically to that existing in much of the former Yugoslavia, except without the alibi of a recent war (and lavish EU members-only funds).
3. Euro-pa League? An impecunious Yawar (as well as his better-heeled travel partner) found the cost of the holiday eye-wateringly high, as everything from restaurant bills to accommodation tariffs – freshly priced in euros, with the peseta having been dumped at the end of 2001 – seemingly having at least one zero too many. When tourists are reduced to slumming it in Albaicín, one can be sure that the locals going to find the majority of stuff a tad price elastic – with both production and consumption cycles prone to the odd death spiral.
One of our number recently had one of those once-in-a-while experiences which makes a person wonder whether they are tuned into the same reality as the majority of the world’s population. It came in a Central London eatery, a glass-and-steel clone which one imagines was once the last word in high-definition living but now resembles just another asset on a private equity balance sheet.
Sipping a reasonably warm Earl Grey tea – a beverage which by some happy coincidence appears to have escaped total plasticisation – our representative was party to an extraordinary monologue emanating from the lips of someone who seemed to carry the entire burden of the heavily-indebted southern EU on their slender shoulders. A visibly upset former denizen of this now benighted economic black hole, this person passionately railed against the entire European project with all the force of one whose convictions have gone beyond the point of absolute and are now in the realm of sublimity.
Thoughts ran through our representative’s head, of course. Lots of them. Perhaps it was not only the wealthy northern core of the EU which was to blame for the current crisis; maybe the generation of politicians in the periphery of Western Europe which signed over their countries to what they believed was a relentlessly prosperous future did not read the small print of accession; yes, even the possibility that nations such as Greece, Spain and Portugal – all in their own way prisoners of their own very different yet ultimately similar histories – could have run into the arms of the perfect Europe they perceived that little less uncritically…this dangerous ‘perhaps’ also entered their mind.