Bill's Archived Comments

for the week beginning: Monday, 9th December 2002

Contents of this page (scroll down the page to see the full text of the article which interests you)

- Turkey and the EU (13 Dec 2002)

- Gay Conservatives say Party recognises them (10 Dec 2002)

(If you wish to see other articles, please click on the 'Archives' link above to go there now)

Turkey and the EU (13 Dec 2002)

Some weeks ago, former French President Valéry Giscard D'Estaing, speaking in his role of helping to plan the EU's future development, indicated that it was his view that if Turkey were ever permitted to join the EU it would portend 'the end of the EU'. Romano Prodi quickly distanced the EU Commission from this dirigiste, some would say 'racist', stance.

Giscard d'Estaing's remarks were timed, one imagines, to influence the decision being taken this week in Copenhagen, on whether to set a date for EU negotiations with Turkey to begin, at the summit marking the climax of Denmark's six month 'stint' in the EU Presidency. During this summit, the final negotiations which will probably lead to the accession of ten new members (Czech Republic, Cyprus, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Malta, Poland, Slovakia and Slovenia) in May 2004 are being completed. Of the candidate countries, Slovenia followed by Malta has the highest GDP per capita, with most of the others much further behind; the major impact will be Poland, with its large population and major agriculture base.

Economics, however, is only a part of the story; politics and notions of 'culture' are important, too. Some, such as Giscard d'Estaing, consider that it is inappropriate for Turkey ever to become a member because it is a largely Muslim (although 'secular') country and because it is mostly not in Europe; in summary, it is culturally just too different from what is, in his contention, a Christian and European-only club.

I can, to a certain extent (but only to a certain extent) understand this thinking, but I do not share it. The idea behind the development of the European institutions, culminating in the EU of today (who knows what it will become in decades hence), was to form a partnership of broadly liberal and democratic nations which could further each other's economic and political security - I would agree that the grouping was always envisaged to be [mainly] European, but I have never been aware that it was to be solely 'Christian'; had not Algeria fought for and achieved independence from France, I have no doubt that largely-Muslim Algeria would have been championed by France as a full EU member as part of France - just as France's existing overseas provinces ('départements') are full members by virtue of being part of France.

So far as 'democracy' is concerned, it is also a fact that this was only a recent innovation in certain existing EU members at the time of their accession (I refer here to Spain, Portugal and Greece) and that accession was regarded at the time, and has largely succeeded, as a method of deepening democratic ideals in these countries. The same can likewise be said of several, if not most, of the present ten candidate countries; indeed, in some respects the treatment of minorities in a few of these candidate countries was in the VERY recent past highly suspect, and in my view will require close monitoring for some years to come - I refer to the Czech Republic and to Slovakia, both of which have a dubious record in dealing with their so-called 'gypsy' populations, not to mention the outrageous discrimination practised against Russian speakers (who do not also speak the local language) in some of the Baltic nations.

And of course there is Greece, a country which would have us believe is the direct descendant of the cradle of ancient European democracy - Athens. Even were one to accept blindly this version of history, which I do not, Athenian 'democracy' bears only a very remote resemblance to what we would choose to categorise as democracy. However, with all its faults (and it has very many), it is probably true that Greece as a member of the EU is less of an aberrant democracy than it would be were it not within the 'club', but I am strongly of the view that its own long-standing antipathy toward Turkey should not allow it to veto that country's ability to be considered as a potential future member.

Nor should the determination of France to protect its large receipts of agricultural subsidies under the Common Agricultural Policy, which is the root of so much of the current fierce debate involving the terms of accession of the ten new candidates (specially Poland), be allowed to spill over into a crude religious apartheid to determine which countries may aspire to join the EU.

Turkey, with its 80 million people and its relatively high rate of population growth, would inevitably become a very influential member if permitted to join, but it would also supply a major part of the vigorous youth and labour that the aging  populations of the existing members (whether the present 15, or the soon-to-be 25 member nations)  will require, to keep their own economies functioning and growing. Turkey has been a good and loyal member of NATO since its inception and whilst it is true that its record on human rights is very far from perfect, it is also true that in recent years it has been making real progress in this area - I think it will be at the very least a worthwhile initiative to hold out to the Turks the genuine possibility that they can become members, always provided that they continue to make real, practical progress in the conditions that all candidate countries must comply with - if they can do this, then I see no real reason to refuse them entry.

Gay Conservatives say Party recognises them (10 Dec 2002)

A report carried by the Times newspaper yesterday mentioned that 'Torch' (aka 'Gay Conservatives', but see below) had achieved recognition as an officially affiliated group within the Conservative party.

I could find no other other trace of this story until after 5pm yesterday when the BBC carried a report on the matter on its website. According to the report, which seems to be based solely on an interview with James Davenport, recently-appointed Chairman of 'Torch', the Board  (the organ of the Party which approves such things) have approved official recognition, but "it will not be officially announced until the New Year". Now what exactly does this mean? I have no real idea, but I am going to speculate anyway.

I think the whole purpose of this announcement is to coincide with the 'Torch' annual dinner, taking place this year on 10 December (i.e. this evening) and to give Davenport something positive sounding to 'crow' about - and to seek to justify his claim that the changes made to 'Torch' policy since he became Chairman (blind support of the homophobic policies of the Conservative Party - harsh, but it's the truth) are producing results. However, and there has to be a 'however', the 'Gay Conservatives' website this morning clarifies the remarks in the BBC report yesterday evening, by indicating that the delay in announcement is because the Board's 'approval' requires "approval of certain technical matters" by the 'Constitutional Committee' - this delphic comment is made by an unnamed spokesperson, which is in itself very interesting, I think. Now it is also a fact that in the 'Groups' link of Party organisations in its main website that a number of organisations which did not appear there before have recently (i.e. in the last six months or so) appeared - whether they are newly-affiliated groups is not clear.

I think the real reason for with-holding full approval to 'Torch' and giving them a link in the main Conservative party website is to avoid upsetting the bigots who form such a large proportion of Conservative Party membership - I'll be interested to observe, once the excitement of this evening's annual dinner is over, how far into the New Year it is before we hear any more of this matter 'officially' from the Conservative Party.

Finally, and by the way, I observe that the name of the gay conservative grouping seems to have changed from 'Torche' to 'Torch'; in the earlier version the 'e' stood for equality - is this the factor that is causing the 'Constitutional Committee' the vapours?

|      |

Copyright © 2002 William Cameron