Editorial: Dump Greece and give Turkey a chance
One of the reasons why Greece’s economic woes have slid from a current affairs tragedy into comedy is that after all the defiant, self-congratulatory protest against austerity measures in Athens, Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras stuck his hand out for yet a third bailout from the EU, on the understanding once again that his government will enact reforms. My own two cents online have already stirred strong reactions, but that’s the point of an editorial. And so it’s time for Act Two—because I’ve got some more points with which to loose the Furies.
For instance, why on Earth was Greece ever allowed to have the euro in the first place? Let me refresh the memories of those who might take offense. In 1999, Greece was shut out of the eurozone because it couldn’t meet the EU’s economic criteria. In 2001, when Greece ditched its drachma and adopted the euro, it already had one of the highest unemployment rates in Europe at 10.3 percent, its public sector borrowing was out of whack with EU regs for governing entry, and as the BBC reported, the president of the European Central Bank at the time, Wim Duisenberg, “warned that Greece still had a lot of work to do to improve its economy and bring inflation under control.” Sound familiar?
Turkey also had an economic crisis back in 2001. And, yes, it got some much-needed help from the IMF. But it dug itself out of its hole by actually doing what it said it would do. It reformed its state-owned banks and the private ones that had failed. It got down to privatizing key sectors like telecom and natural gas. It put the brakes on public sector salaries. In short, it got itself together. And yet the years drag on, and Turkey hasn’t joined the EU.
To be fair, there are several good arguments against Turkey’s membership. Andrew Duff, a former MP of the European Parliament (who even considers himself a Turcophile) wrote in his blog last December, “After years of tinkering with the Turkish constitution, there have been minor improvements but not the radical overhaul it needs to meet EU norms. Torture is proscribed, but the administration of justice remains slow, poor and unfair.” He also has some very on-point comments about the loathsome regime of Recep Erdogan.
I can’t help but suspect, however, that the EU’s reluctance over Turkey has more to do with bias towards a Muslim population (despite its younger citizens’ devotion to the nation’s secular framework) than any technical hitches or even the major obstacle of Cyprus. Greece, the fount of so much Western European culture, has always felt more European to many Westerners, while Turkey still conjures up for them outdated fantasies of corrupt Ottoman pashas. Just casually chatting with Turks on a recent visit there, I can attest to some of the widespread contempt Erdogan inspires in citizens and how much his conservative agenda is dreaded.
But one can also argue Erdogan, like any other player on the world stage, won’t be around forever. True, his corrosive damage is done, but the old argument that EU inclusion could help stem the rise of Islamic fundamentalism now has a fresh currency. Think back 25 years and ask yourself how many capitalists you’d expect to find in China. Now fast forward and think that thought again.
Change happens. Europe’s free to engage in debate over whether any current EU members need to be shoved out the door to stand on their own. Still, the fact remains that Turkey deserves a fair chance to join the club
Copyright 2015 Rogers Publishing Ltd. This article first appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of Corporate Risk Canada magazine