Suna S. Vidinli, Chief Coordinator, Foreign affairs, Dogan TV-Radyo
– Istanbul
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I spent Thursday and Friday of last week at the World Economic Forum (WEF) Turkey conference in Istanbul. Edelman is a WEF partner and we helped the Forum run a session on perceptions of Turkey and presented a research study of Board level execs from around the world. The charts are detailed below, but I can summarise the findings as:

  • Turkey is now up there with Russia and Brazil and should be considered a member of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) club, making it the T-BRIC club as Klaus Schwab, Executive Chairman of the Forum described it
  • Positive attributes include perceptions about the size of the market, education levels, transport links and attractive lifestyle for expatriates
  • Negative aspects include perceptions about political stability, legal systems and corruption.

However, after two days I did come away with the idea that the process of the accession talks and the final decision years hence will say as much if not more about Europe as it will about Turkey. The idea of Turkey as an EU member has gone out of fashion in Europe, and whilst the Cyprus issue has contributed, it would be foolish to hide from what is probably the main reason, which is the fear of more immigration and the prospect of being club members with a nation of 70 million Muslims. There is a bit of a retreat from the idea of multi-culturalism at the moment in Europe, driven (depending upon who you believe) by the fear of losing jobs and a loss of cultural identity. Given that Europe has just digested 10 new member states recently and that the ‘Polish plumber’ has become a feature/fear of many European landscapes and that many markets are seeing the relocation of manufacturing jobs beyond their shores, this is probably not surprising. But this phase is about done according to Katinka Barysch Chief Economist, Centre for European Reform and European economies and employment levels should soon start to see the benefit of the flexibility this has created.

I hope so, because I’m convinced now that if Europe closes its doors it will lose an historic opportunity to go forward itself. Turkey’s economy is big and is growing and could give us an economic shot in the arm just when we need it, but more importantly, if we (the ‘West’) are to reach out and be inclusive of the Islamic world surely we cannot turn our backs on the best example of a democratic, secular Muslim country? Turkey’s example where life seems pretty normal and comfortable for most people is about the best bulwark against extremism we have. With Turkey a thriving member of the EU, we would have an example, not just peace-full coexistence, but of mutual support and benefit. Unless we want to retreat further into ourselves and rely upon our own ageing populations economically and put up with increasing threats from what otherwise might be an increasingly fundamentalist eastern border, Turkey could be as good news for us as we are for them.

That being said, they probably need to do more in terms of communicating, and certainly within the EU. If it’s a truism that perceptions lag reality, then the speed of change in Turkey means that perceptions are even further behind in their case, and that spells danger in a nervous, unconfident EU.

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