TOPIC: Turkey Enlargement

Speaking in Ankara, Turkey, on Tuesday, July 27th, the British Prime Minister David Cameron animatedly declared the "UK strongly supports Turkey EU membership bid" and furthermore, the UK would do everything in its power to help "pave the road from Ankara to Brussels."

Turkey applied for accession to the European Union April of 1987. To accede to the EU, Turkey must complete negotiations with the Commission on each of the thirty-five chapters of the aquis communautaire, the total body of EU law. As of last month, only thirteen of these chapters have been opened for discussion and one of them provisionally closed.

For the members of the European Union, the decision to accept Turkey into the EU is two-facetted. After all, there is a reason why the EU is so stuck about whether or not admitting Turkey is a good idea. The split can be simplified neatly into two perspectives: the internal and the external.

Internally, Turkey joining the European Union does not bode well for France or Germany. Right now, France and Germany, with two of the most large and populous countries in the European Union, control decisions in the population proportionate parliament. However, Turkey has a much larger population Turkey joining the European Union would shift the balance of power in the European Parliament overnight. In essence, Turkey would become the leading opinion in the EU, and the decision maker with the most weight. To France and Germany, this seems preposterous: after all, isn't Turkey more of a middle eastern country than a European country? France and Germany have driven European unification and the founding of the European Union since the very beginning, and many within these countries believe that it is very much in the interest of the European Union to have France and Germany leading the decision process.

Externally, Turkey's enlargement proves to be what would only be a good decision. To begin with the most basic - if we are, as the British do, to consider the EU a primarily economic union - Turkey's economy is enough to power the whole of the existing European Union. The demographics of Turkey show that there is a large youth population boom that will enter the work force in the next decade. This demographic quality has been, historically, responsible for the advent of many economic superpowers. China's economic rise has been powered by a large boom in the youth population. Turkey is predicted to be the second fastest growing economy in the world within a decade. Furthermore, Turkey is the gateway to the Middle East. The power and influence that would beget the European Union is key for a continent often at odds with this region of the world.

Of course, we are oversimplifying. Cyprus remains a turning point issue in the question of Turkey's accession to the EU. NATO has been grinded to a standstill by the tension – with Cyprus part of the EU and Turkey, a member of NATA, unwilling to acknowledge the country's independence. Negotiations talks have been underway for some time, but recently the problem has been acerbated by the nationalistic Turkish party winning the elections in the Turkish part of Cyprus. As of today, all negotiations have been halted.

But, if we are to be realistic, the facts and opinions all boil down to one simple question that the members of the European Union need to decide: what is Europe? What does it mean to be European? Where does enlargement end? Is Europe an idea, or are geographical boundaries innately tied to the word? Europe needs to stop expanding and take some time to think about what we are. Europe needs to integrate. Europe needs to be defined. And until that is done, we cannot move forward.

So, quo vadis Europa?

Watch a part of Cameron's speech: via BBC.
VISIT: The Embassy of Turkey in Brussels.


TOPIC: Water Scarcity

It's a rather frightening concept. Mostly, it is spoken about briefly; always mentioned in the EU conference rooms, yet never fully addressed. Inside the walls of the Canadian Embassy, it is almost a joke: more troops should be trained to keep out the Americans when they come for Canada's abundant fresh water. And the best the WWF can advise is to turn off the faucet while washing your teeth.

Water scarcity, agrees the Commissioner for the Environment, is a key issue if we are to talk about stability and our future. The issue is tied with resource efficiency, one of the largest topics on the Commissioner's policy agenda. Resource efficient countries are more competitive. Furthermore, when it comes to something as essential as water, countries should not only want to be competitive: they need to be competitive in order to retain their sovereignty. Water security is becoming as much a sensitive political issue as food security. Parallel, water sovereignty is as much a necessity as food sovereignty, if not more; it cannot be abandoned, less the country become dependent on water imports for its very survival. Such a trade dependency might well be a path towards interdependence unlike any we have seen before and in that token, peace, but a peace built on extremely tight tensions. A Representative of Parliament was not far off when she warned water could be the spark to throw the entire planet into war.

The amount of fresh water on earth is finite. 2.5% of our planet water is not salty, and of that, only 0.3% is available to us, the rest locked up in ice and groundwater. We, however, as a population, are growing in what seems to be an indefinite exponential function. According to the UN, an individual needs a minimum of 50 litres of water a day, for "drinking, washing, cooking, and sanitation." Furthermore, the shift towards a western diet around the world is rapidly depleting supplies: one kilogram of grain-fed beef needs at least fifteen cubic meters of water, compared to a kilo of cereals, which need only three cubic meters. This is serious when 70% of all water is used for agriculture. With a rapidly increasing population with heightened needs and a dwindling supply of fresh water, we need to stop and think.

And these statistics are only getting worse with the rapidly advancing effects of climate change. One-third of the world population lives in water-stressed countries. By 2025, it will be two-thirds of the world population. The most drastic example is Lake Chad, in Sub-Saharan Africa, which has shrunk 95% since the mid 1960s. The global temperatures are rising, and many of the traditional fresh water sources are vanishing. Groundwater, lakes, and rivers are drying up. Furthermore, the large scale melting of glaciers is causing rivers to run out. This is an extremely pressing problem for the Ganges River in India given the melting rate of the Himalayan Glaciers. Mexico City, built upon the lake it uses as the city's main source water has sunk nine meters into its foundations since 1900.

However, there are many optimists when it comes to water scarcity. The simple reason is the nature of climate change. Climate change means exactly what the word entails. Forget global warming. What we are apt to see is extreme distribution of water. The average yearly rainfall has been steadily increasing in Uganda, a region not used to large water management. In Uganda, the water is lost in runoff and puddles, polluted and unfit for human use. The transmission of diseases in the region is increasing: in the world, more than five million people die of waterborne diseases each year. But all of this is due to a mismanagement of resources. Climate change entails a shift. While countries that traditionally had benefited from large stable water supplies now fear drought, countries traditionally more dry, fear flooding.

The UN-backed World Commission estimated an additional $100 billion a year would be needed to tackle water scarcity worldwide, a greater amount by far than the $20 billion needed for AIDS and HIV. And that would mean $100 billion well spent. The European Union put aside 4.2 billion euros to divert water from the Rio Ebro to supply the area around Valencia, Almeria, and Murcia. However, the plan was scratched when the Zapatero government came to power in 2004 and wisely listened to the environmentalists' pleas: the plan would not only threaten the fragile delta of the river, but also presented a gross misuse of water; most of the water would be used for golf fields to be placed on the banks of the re-routed river as per investment priority. Desalination technology is now seeing a large investment from the government, with so far promising results.

The thing is…we have enough water. Yes, the temperatures are rising and the fresh water caught in the artic ice is melting into the ocean. But much larger is the problem of water misuse. What we can't afford are ill-drafted plans such as the Euro Plan above. The solution to the increasing scarcity of water is to manage the water we do have efficiently.

Efficient and sustainable practice keeps on being the answer. Let's honour our self-given name Homo sapiens, the wise ones, and be intelligent about how we use our resources. The right way is not always the easy way, and it may at times demand cleverness and a sacrifice of our comfortable laziness. We are given one planet, let's use it wisely.

Water is what makes our planet inhabitable. Without water, there is not only nothing to drink, but nothing to irrigate crops with, and thus nothing to eat. Without water, there is no life.

Maybe next time you run the tap while washing your teeth, think twice about it.


ON MY DESK: After the Dust Has Cleared

More on Football, Nationalism, and the changing World: Soccer Explains Nothing.

TOPIC: From Copenhagen to Cancun

The panel consisted of six experts and officials. Four were nodding and smiling, one was adjusting his tie while his eyes wandered, and the last was a pessimist, and arguably the most informed and experienced.

The topic was nothing new: climate change, biodiversity and the negotiations and summits that went along with it. In particular, the failure of Copenhagen. However, the pessimist, a representative of the European Commission from the Unit of International Agreements and Trade, extended this quite effectively to the failure of all multi-lateral negotiations.

The Copenhagen failed on two accounts: it failed to produce a treaty to replace or add to the Kyoto Protocol, due to run out in 2012; and it failed to produce a timeline to do so. Furthermore, the outcome document, the non-binding Copenhagen Accord, is weak and hardly a tool we can fight the growing climate crisis with. The tensions between the rich and poor countries are palpable in the document, which does little to alleviate them other than to suggest rich countries raise funds to aid poor countries transition to greener economies. We must be fair, though. There are many that would argue the Climate Summit at Copenhagen was not a total failure. One of these is Lord Stern, Chair of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment. Speaking at a conference at the London School of Economics, he stated: "Copenhagen…did concentrate minds, and it did lead…to quite specific plans from countries that hadn't set them out before."

However, if we look closely at the Copenhagen Accord, which has already been signed by seventy-three countries, we start to see a pattern in the words. And the pattern goes way back. Let us cast a glance at a report from 1987; twenty-three years ago, since when mean global temperatures have increased by up to 2.5 oC in some areas of the Artic, and a in general by 0.8 oC, according to the recent 2009 report by the NASA Earth Observatory. The 1987 Brundtland Report is eerily familiar. All the words are there: "strategies for sustainable development", "burning fossil fuels", "accumulation of atmospheric CO2", "slow growth in world economy", "shift to a green economy"…and the list goes on.

All these documents are the same.

The exact same words and paragraphs keep popping up everywhere: be it protocols, reports, treaties, or even EU section meeting speeches. The conferences that meet all over the EU all day draft documents exactly like the Brundtland Report. Same goal, same grandiose statements. Time is at an impasse: the Brundtland Report could have been written in 2010 and no one could have known the difference.

Copenhagen was a product of the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change) process. And maybe, as the Commission man wryly pointed out, it is time to approach the crisis outside the umbrella of the UNFCCC. At Copenhagen, everyone talked. No one listened. And no one took action. Copenhagen was a summit in which the greatest subject of discussion was where the next summit would be. And so it followed the route of every summit before it. In the words of the Commission representative: "if you do what you did, you get what you got." What we got is another climate summit: Cancun 2010.

The Commission representative didn't see Copenhagen as a failure, rather another stepping stone in this long line of disappointing multilateral negotiations. A stepping stone trail leading us down a "dangerous path." He smiled a bit when a man in the front row pointed out that the answer to the climate crisis might be a difficult one. He didn't even blink, "there are always easy answers to hard questions. And this one, we already have the solution to." There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We have the ideas; in fact, we've had them for a long time. What we need now is to use the tools we have and start some movement. We need to take action.

The Commission representative found himself standing for a larger argument: we must be wary. Politicians, bureaucrats, dignitaries, ambassadors…all these people have brilliant ideas. But when it comes time for action, that invading inertia so characteristic of all government panels, stifles all attempts. We cannot let ideas become empty words whispered in small rooms that will rot in a government library.

After the conference, I spotted the Commission man disinterestedly eyeing some biscuits near the main spread. I asked him what he meant by "dangerous path".

His answer was a chuckle and a shrug. I suppose this means: we better not find out.

Read through the 1987 UN Brundtland Report: via WikiSource
Compare with the Copenhagen Accord: via UNFCC Resource Documents


TOPIC: Nationalism

Europeans like to be different.

Not only as a group, but also as individual countries. This latter point is very much apparent in the general reluctance towards European integration. While the idealistic notion of a united Europe appeals on some level to all of those working at the European Union institutions, there is still an element of history and nationalistic sentiment at play. Europe has splattered the pages of history in the blood of warfare and brutal conquest. Yes, in the backdrop there have always been movements for a coalition or an alliance built on peace: the Concert of Vienna, to name a particularly poignant example. However, none of these alliances had the normative power the European Union wields today; or the grand designs of a European Union made by Europeans, where European means not French, not Belgian, but every person born on the European continent.

The movement towards European integration, spearheaded by the European Union, is a movement very characteristic of our century. It is a movement against the grain of old traditions which aims at a more open-minded, pluralist world. We can see a parallel in a more extreme situation: the movement towards a secular global society. As the world moves towards instituting religion as a private opinion, more and more extremists groups rise up. To fight the current, these groups stubbornly hold onto their fading ways of life by making them even more prominent. The same is happening with nationalism in Europe. As Europe moves slowly towards integration and the European Union progressively becomes stronger, the French become more French, the German become more German, and so on.

And where else would this be more apparent than in football?

The Commissioner of for the Environment managed to get the Slovenian's goalkeeper to sign his arm. Right before beginning his speech, he joked about how he had to wear long sleeves to protect and preserve the signature as long as possible. The German representative of the environment interests introduced himself in a Section hearing as a citizen of the country about to win the World Cup. The French allowed themselves a day of mourning after their lost hopes, excusing themselves from work. In a study group meeting, all the Germans - in other words, two-thirds of the people present at the meeting – abruptly got up and left promptly fifteen minutes before their game started at one-thirty.

Yes, football is the game of the people. And yes, people are passionate about football. But more than football fever, the EU seems to have caught the fever's twin: contented nationalism.

Individual A lives in Italy. Individual A lives in a country which happens to be a member state of the European Union – a steadily expanding supranational power that is slowly becoming an integral government body to the continent. Individual A's life and the government pressures on Individual A's life are becoming increasingly parallel to those of Individual B in Spain, or Individual C in France. In other words, Individual A is becoming European. Individual A may be much more similar to Individual C than to another individual in Italy. Individual A's Italian characteristics are becoming less and less defined as the European Union's influence steadily expands. And when Individual A realizes this, Individual A tries as hard as possible to make these remaining characteristics as strongly defined as possible.

Football has become a way to be different. A way to be Spanish, French, German, Slovenian, not just European like everyone else. Football is the perfectly politically correct manner in which a European can be proudly national, content with their small right at their home country.



ON MY DESK: Reality Should Not Stop Us

"Life has no limitations, except the ones you make."
Les Brown.