Turkey’s President, Abdullah Gul, yesterday put forward his vision for a democratic Middle East with its own European Union-style regional organisation. It wasn’t entirely clear, though, what this might mean for Turkish membership of the EU. Has Turkey grown bored of waiting and decided to set up its own club? Or does President Gul see a place for his country as a “bridge” between the two regions?
Either way, it’s not the first time in recent months we’ve heard of plans for new organisations styled after the EU. Last month, Russian Prime Minister (and soon-to-be President?) Vladimir Putin announced that he wanted to see a Eurasian Union set up by 2015, incorporating Russia, Belarus and Kazakhstan, and with its headquarters in Moscow. We had a comment on Debating Europe at that time from Giorgio, arguing that “if [the EU does] not continue the enlargement process, then [the former Soviet countries of Eastern Europe] will fall back into the Russian influence”.
Another commenter, Nikolai, saw this a signal that tensions between Russia and Europe were increasing:
The geopolitical tug-o-war is back on. Despite the huge political energy spent by the EU on the [Eastern Partnership] nations, if they want to win this battle convincingly then they are going to have to act decisively and swiftly when it comes to negotiations, agreements and ratifications.
We recently interviewed Alain Délétroz, Vice-President (Europe) of the International Crisis Group, and asked him what he thought of Putin’s “Eurasian Union” idea.
This proposal for a Eurasian Union comes from Mr Putin whilst he is back in campaign mode. We have to remember, however, that he was mocked by the media in Russia afterwards as the “Eurasian President”.
I think we have to take this for what it is, which is a commitment to reinforce economically and politically Russia’s relationships in the region. Russia is especially concerned about the prospect of instability in its neighbourhood. The pogroms in 2010 in Kyrgyzstan, for example, were a wake-up call; the Kremlin was as surprised of the rest of us. Having said that, with the European Union, Moscow has always been less nervous than with NATO.
Behind this, I see the question of a possible continental catastrophe with the EU disintegrating. The EU will either have to make huge steps forwards at the level of integration – maybe not the 27 but maybe just the eurozone. Either the eurozone will make these steps, and within 3 to 5 years growth will be back within the EU and it will be able to look outwards again, or the danger of disintigration is there.
In fact, the current political crisis might be more dangerous than the economic crisis. We hear no such pushes coming out of national capitals, no attempts at gathering citizens behind the old dream of Europe. I can say that in France I don’t remember any Presidential campaign where the European construction would not be put forward as a positive good. Recently, however, this attitude has disappeared when it is perhaps needed the most.
What do YOU think? Should the EU be concerned by proposals for rival EU-styled organisations in Eurasia and the Middle East? Or should it be keen to export the model of regional integration throughout the world (as former Irish Taoiseach John Bruton argued at a recent Debating Europe event). Let us know your thoughts in the form below, and we’ll take your comments to policy-makers and experts for their reactions.
Alain Délétroz is Vice-President (Europe) of the International Crisis Group.