Interview: former French diplomat Hubert Védrine on China and a West 'in disarray'
Former Foreign Minister Hubert Védrine, author of 'History Strikes Back,' offers a realist view on a central challenge for Europe and the United States: the rise of China.
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A: It depends on your conception of Europe. In the political, very integrated view of Europe taken by the federalists since the '50s, Turkey has no place because it belongs to another world. Turkey is hugely important, very useful from a strategic point of view, but it doesn’t fit in the original European project. The people who conceived the European community couldn’t imagine for one second that Turkey would be part of it. The mention of Turkey’s ‘European destiny’ in a commercial agreement in 1963 was purely formal. It referred to the exchanges, but not membership.Skip to next paragraph
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But as Europe enlarged, as Europeans sought to be friends with everyone but with no clear-cut positions, we ended up accepting the Turkish application in 1999, at the Helsinki European council. Whether the decision was good or bad, it was taken. We can’t tell Turkey we gave it the wrong form and start from scratch! We should have told Turkey long ago that, while it was a key partner strategically and economically, it didn’t belong to Europe, just like Morocco. But since we began membership negotiations, we can’t put these negotiations into question by arguments that look artificial.
Sarkozy’s position finds an echo with the French and European right, as many people think that Turkey does not belong to Europe. But it is politically unmanageable and a minority view among European leaders.
Would we lose Turkey if the negotiations failed? I don’t think so. I can’t see Turkey forging an alliance with China against Europe just for spite. Turkey’s strategic interest is to maintain relations with everyone: the US, Europe (whether through membership or not), Central Asia, the Arab world.
It is a complex question. Advocates of Turkey’s integration contend that it would show a Europe reaching a hand to Muslim countries and proving the clash of civilizations wrong. But Turkey’s integration wouldn’t go down well among Arab states. After all, Turkey is the country that colonized them. Why Turkey and not Morocco? That’s why I don’t think it is a good argument. There is another argument put forward on the French left, especially former prime minister Michel Rocard. He says that although he believed in political Europe, it is now over. The EU is something else, strongly integrated from an economic point of view but weakly integrated from a political one. In this new configuration, there is no reason to deny Turkey’s membership. At any rate, we must go on with negotiations. Turkey has no interest in turning its back to Europe.
A: I don’t think that Russia wants to enter Europe at all. Russia wants its power to be recognized anew and to use what is left of its nuisance power. They don’t want to be humiliated. They hated the period after the end of the Soviet Union, the Yeltsin years. They are pursuing a restoration of Russia’s dignity. They don’t want to enter a complex system in which decisions are voted by a majority. They want to reconstitute power. Whether they’ll succeed is another matter: they didn’t manage to create a modern economy, their demography is in freefall, they depend heavily on gas and oil.