Veiko Spolitis is both Estonian and Latvian. He's an academic working in Rīgas Stradiņa universitātes (Latvia) and in Helsinki University (Finland). He is the ideal person to explain to us the debate about the European Union's enlargement to Turkey from the shores of the Baltic sea.
What is the general attitude toward enlargement in Estonia and Latvia? Is Turkey a salient issue in the public debate?
General attitude varies in different media. The mainstream liberal printed press and public broadcasters in both countries are generally supportive about Turkey’s future membership. Also, if one analyzes the Eurobarometer bi-annual surveys, then one may read that the Baltic States, similarly to most of the new democracies, support Turkey’s EU bid. The issue of Turkey’s EU membership is different in both countries due to the different domestic priorities. Turkey’s EU membership is certainly not a salient issue, mostly because of the geographical position and the relative underdevelopment of both countries. There are no sizeable immigrant communities in both countries, except the Russian colonists who arrived in Estonia and Latvia during the Soviet occupation. Most of the media's attention has therefore focused on the relation to the sizeable community of Russian speakers in both countries. Only in the nationalist and marginal media one may find negative opinions about Turkey’s EU membership. Generally Turkey’s EU membership in Latvia and Estonia is associated with positive news about Turkey’s economic strength, mutual investment opportunities and splendid tourism opportunities.
What are the good and bad points of Turkey's accession for Estonian and Latvian leaders?
Since the late 1990’s, Latvia and Estonia have been supportive of Turkey’s EU membership due to the considerable help both countries received in their bid for NATO membership. Reciprocal visits of the highest-ranking politicians in Riga, Tallinn and Ankara have been frequent. Reciprocal visits of the highest-ranking politicians in Riga, Tallinn and Ankara have been frequent. In their visits to Ankara, Estonian and Latvian presidents as well as leaders of reformist governments have publicly supported Turkey’s EU membership, underlining Ankara’s democratic reform progress. In their public statements politicians from Estonia and Latvia have stressed common European values and an equitable approach to all candidate countries. Tallinn and Riga have repeatedly pursued their strategic commitment to the enlargement of the EU. I would argue that mainly cultural and public diplomacy determine relations of Estonian and Latvian elites with Turkey. Cultural and sports events are numerous, and, for example, the Estonian Prime Minister was instrumental in helping Turkey establish the cross-country ski marathon tradition. Istanbul and Tallinn have been cultural capitals of Europe one after the other and this has deepened cultural interactions between the two countries. The generally supportive attitude about Turkey’s EU accession is usually tainted by nationalist politicians in both countries. Populist politicians in Latvia tend to speak about the fear of immigration from outside the EU and blame potential immigration from Turkey for their own lack of courage to increase the pension age or change the economy's structure. In Estonia the only qualms about Turkey’s EU bid stem from criticism about human rights and lack of freedom of the press.
Scholars sometimes say that a "big EU" cannot be a "political EU". What do you think of that in the perspective of Turkey's accession?
Indeed there are different opinions about the architecture of the EU in the scholarly community and especially by liberal intergovernmentalists like Stanley Hoffmann and Andrew Moravscik. Historically, the EC/EU has developed as a common market project which has been at the centre of the integration process on the European continent. The centrality of market integration explained the European integration process all the way until the Maastricht treaty. It established the common market and helped to form the EU institutions. From the historical perspective, the EU integration process is similar to the unification of Germany through the process of Zollverein. While focusing only on historic arguments one may interpret the EU integration process solely as a ‘’German project’’ and therefore falsely explain the factors behind the European integration process. After all, the end of the Cold War and the end of the ideologically charged East-West discourse have fostered the ‘’rise of the rest’’ as described by Fareed Zakaria, and enabled Europeans to reassess the structure of the European economy vis-a-vis its closest neighbors, China, India and Russia. The EU is built on the values of Enlightenment or the very same principles which underlied the French revolution and principles of republicanism, that were the basis for state building processes both in France and Turkey. The EU is built on the values of Enlightenment or the very same principles which underlied the French revolution and principles of republicanism, that were the basis for state building processes both in France and Turkey. The EU parliament gained more power in the Amsterdam Treaty. Its centrality is established in the Lisbon Treaty and one may witness the classical Monnet community method fading away as EU politics are defined today by interplay between the EU Commission, the Parliament, the Council and national parliaments. In light of this, the EU institutions are ready to assess the strategic value of Turkey’s EU accession. This way, the EU could serve the interests of a majority of its members and not make it a hostage to some member countries' political discourse which is sometimes influenced by faulty political decisions.
Veiko Spolitis is a PhD student at the University of Helsinki (Department of Political and Economic Studies).