A miserable EU means a miserable Turkey

Half of the audience attending an international conference in Istanbul last week laughed when a U.S. Congressmen said, “I don’t know, of course, whether Turkey will enter the European Union in the future or if the European Union would like to enter Turkey,” as his joke aimed to show the differences between the economic situation of Turkey and the 27-nation bloc.

Half of the audience attending an international conference in Istanbul last week laughed when a U.S. Congressmen said, “I don’t know, of course, whether Turkey will enter the European Union in the future or if the European Union would like to enter Turkey,” as his joke aimed to show the differences between the economic situation of Turkey and the 27-nation bloc.

I personally did not laugh because I basically knew that it was not the backward technology palmed off on Turkey by the United States during the 1970s and 1980s that made this country join the G-20. And I basically knew that had Turkey not entered into a customs union with the EU, Turkish industrialists would have continued to opt for the easy way out: making loads of money by palming off outdated products on Turkish consumers.

 It was only in the 1990s that we, the Turkish consumers, were seen as worthy of up-to-date products by Turkish industrialists. And that “revelation” did not come out of the blue to the Turkish business world. They were forced to renew themselves out of fear of the competition that would come as a result of Turkey’s full entry into the customs union in 1996.

The very same Turkish industrialists that blocked Turkey’s accession to the then-European Community in the late 1970s out of fear that Turkish industry would sink under European competition are probably now realizing that it was thanks to that institutional relationship with the EU that they are currently able to compete globally.

But the state of frustration of being constantly turned down by the EU, coupled with the ensuing feeling of humiliation, makes us forget some realities. Therefore, when someone tells us that Turkey is doing well economically while the EU is struggling with the financial crisis, that makes us proud and happy.

It is probably that sense of frustration that led President Abdullah Gül to call the EU “miserable.” In fact, his anger stemmed from the upcoming EU presidency of Greek Cyprus. Last week, he slammed the prospect of Greek Cyprus taking over the EU presidency next year as “half a country” leading a “miserable union.” He was not only trying to demean Greek Cyprus but the EU as well.

But of all people, Gül, who is originally from Kayseri, should also know that the success of the new economic elites that come from Central and eastern Anatolian provinces like Kayseri stems from Turkey’s ties to the EU.

Nearly 60 percent of Turkey’s exports are to the European market. The Middle Eastern market, to which Turkey had pinned its hopes, is contracting. It is no coincidence that, despite the extremely harsh political rhetoric, Turkey has been thinking twice before implementing fully fledged economic sanctions against Syria.

Recently Daron Acemoğlu, a renowned economist, warned that the eurozone crisis was a ticking time bomb at Turkey’s doorstep. “The Turkish economy is closely connected to the European one. Thus it is open to all possible shocks,” he told the Turkish Daily News in an interview published yesterday. “One cannot see Turkey as an economic model just because it posted high [economic growth]. What matters is turning this into a sustainable and balanced economic growth,” he added.

We better think twice before bragging and demeaning the EU.

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