Turkey’s new ally?

So call-me-Dave has turned up in Ankara chummily vowing to ‘fight’ for Turkey’s membership of the EU.

Well, good on you – at least on the face of it (though comments as to the wider geo-political interests, with regard to Turkey’s ability to act as a restraint on Iranian nuclear ambitions, are no doubt also on the mark as to why this support was offered). It’s right that Turkey can play a bridging role between east and west, and provide a greater understanding of Islam within the EU, and this is the sort of role that Turkey, which applied for EU membership as far back as 50 years ago, has long sought for itself. In principle, and subject to meeting the demands of EU membership, including over EU member Cyprus and a better domestic human rights commitment, Turkey should be in the EU.

But: fine words butter no parsnips – and, aside of Cameron’s ability to say one thing to one audience when circumstances demand and another to a different audience (like here, for instance, over the Building Schools for the Future Fund; over the scrapping of the NHS central database; and over the continuing uncertainties over the establishment of the Green Investment Bank which, as the TUC’s Philip Pearson argues, are indeed stalling the coalition’s green ambitions), he also has policy inconsistences which mean that ‘fighting’ for the rights of Turkey may not, in the end, come to much. As Denis MacShane pointed out in yesterday’s ‘Comment Is Free’ bit of the The Guardian, these would include:

– leaving the mainstream of the European Parliament

– allying with the trenchant right-wing in the EU for which Cameron’s entirely legitimate desire for a greater understanding of Islam is not a policy priority

– a policy promise of a domestic referendum on any new EU treaties, endorsement of which is likely to be a tough ask in the context of domestic politics encompassing the UK Independence Party (though Cameron is not exactly a stranger to retreating from promises of an EU referendum).

It will be interesting to see whether Cameron’s self-portrayal as a friend of Turkey actually means anything in the tough battles to which these issues point, or whether his growing reputation as someone who backs down in the face of adversity will continue to find endorsement in, as I suspect, the eventual dropping of Turkey somewhere down the line.

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